What happened at a Philadelphia Starbucks last month was just another reminder of an enduring issue. Two black men were waiting to meet someone, but a store manager called the police and said they had refused to make a purchase or leave. The two men, who remained calm, were handcuffed.
The coffee chain was castigated around the country and later apologized, but the Starbucks story didn’t happen in isolation. Soon afterwards, similar incidents rose to national attention, showing nasty obstacles of daily life that are all too normal for people of color. There was an April barbecue in Oakland, California, where a white woman called the police on black park goers she said were using the wrong cooking fuel. There were two Mohawk brothers from New Mexico who were questioned by police for apparently being too quiet on a college tour in Colorado. Last week, a Yale student called campus police on a fellow Yale student who was napping in a common space. Officers told the tired student, who was black, they wanted to make sure “you belong here.”
Some incidents like these featured elements of misunderstanding. Sometimes, the stars aligned for an unfortunate ending. But the ridiculous conclusions ended up being the same: Someone who was not white had to answer to police officers largely because they were perceived incorrectly as a threat.
Video images and social media documented some of these moments. These incidents are not new; but we can now quickly and widely share the stories, holding up a mirror to society just a little more closely.
Fortunately, these recent incidents did not result in tragedies with officers reaching for their weapons, as has too often happened in the past. The law enforcement community knows it must review its policies.
But what about the public and its quickness to react when a person of color makes them uncomfortable? Try putting yourself in the other’s shoes. Use a little empathy, instead. Are security or police really needed? See whether you can work things out. It might make the world a less frightening place for everyone.