Jonathan Hart

Blacks Much More Likely to Be Stopped Indoors in Philly Than Whites

The arrest of two Black men who asked to use the bathroom at a Starbucks in Philadelphia was not an anomaly, according to a new analysis, further suggesting that a half-day implicit bias training is not likely to bring any actionable solutions.


In the Center City area of Philadelphia, Blacks make up almost 70 percent of all indoor police stops, statistics reported by the Philly Inquirer show. Philadelphia’s population is roughly 43 percent Black.

The overall number of indoor stops has significantly dropped since 2014, going from 705 to 153 in 2017. But the percentage of Black people stopped indoors shot up more than six percentage points during this time. The rate for white people dropped more than 10 percentage points during this time.

Of indoor stops for white people between 2014 and 2017, 14 percent resulted in an arrest — compared to 21 percent for Black people.

An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report on stop-and-frisks in the city reached similar conclusions. For the first half of 2017, 69 percent of people stopped were Black, and less than a quarter were white.

Officers conduct unfounded frisks at a fairly high rate across the board. Forty-nine percent of frisks for Latinos were unfounded; for Blacks it was 41 percent, and for whites, 38 percent.

Studies in multiple cities have shown that Black people are more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses, including trespassing, than white people. In Minneapolis, Black people are 8.7 times as likely as white people to be arrested for a low-level offense. In New York City, Blacks and Latinos collectively make up 54 percent of the population — but constitute more than 90 percent of those arrested for trespassing. And in Jersey City, N.J., Black people are close to 10 times more likely than white people for low-level offenses.

But who’s more likely to have contraband Among Black people who were frisked in Philly, according to the ACLU study, 9.8 percent had contraband — compared to 10.5 percent of white people.

The blame cannot only be placed on the Starbucks employees; the Philadelphia Police Department has a host of racial issues of its own. The department fosters a culture in which racism is acceptable.

Last year Internal Affairs found that an officer with a Nazi tattoo had not violated any departmental policies. The tattoo was a Nazi eagle; the Philly Voice explained at the time: “That symbol features an eagle with outstretched wings, its head pointed left, and holding a wreath containing a swastika. The photos of [Officer Ian Hans] Lichterman’s tattoos did not show whether his eagle was perched on a swastika” — but the tattoo does include “fatherland” in large letters above the Nazi eagle. His other arm has a large tattoo of an assault rifle.

The Anti-Defamation League categorizes this as a hate symbol. But the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 had no qualms with the officer’s ink because there was no policy saying they should.

John McNesby, its president, insisted there was “nothing wrong.”

The department has also faced several lawsuits alleging racism, dating back to at least 2009. Apparently, not much has changed in almost 10 years.

But Starbucks cannot get off scot-free, either — and an afternoon of a hastily thrown together bias training will not repair Starbucks’ corporate culture.

However, it is probably a good idea for Starbucks to reevaluate how its employees treat their customers. After the Philadelphia arrests gained national attention, a similar incident that occurred in January in California also gained traction. In California, 26-year-old Brandon Ward asked for the bathroom code but was denied it because he had not yet bought anything — only to see a white man walk out of the bathroom before making a purchase. A security guard escorted Ward out before the police arrived.

In Philly, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson asked to go to the bathroom but an employee refused their request, telling them they had to order first. The men sat down. They were asked to leave but refused, at which time the police were called. The men were arrested and held for hours. No charges were filed.

The fact that such similar incidents occurred at two different locations suggests a company culture problem, one that may start at the top. And a look at the company’s leadership team still shows a lack of diversity. Roughly one-fifth of its members are ethnically diverse, and it is two-thirds male.

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