Paul R. Lehman, The Starbucks incident involving the arrest of two African American men shows the need for implicit education as well as training.

April 16, 2018 at 11:43 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, blacks, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, justice, law enforcement agencies, Prejudice, Race in America, whites | 3 Comments
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The recent arrest of two African American males at a Starbucks coffee shop in Philadelphia by police for no apparent reason has generated a plethora of questions regarding cultural bias and social justice. The situations, from media reports, involved two African American men who went to this Starbucks store to meet with someone. They apparently arrived before the party with whom they were to meet and so decided to sit and wait for their party. They asked to use the bathroom but were told by the employees that they could not use it because they had not purchased anything. At some point afterward they were asked by the employees to leave, but they refused.

 

The reports noted that a statement from the Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Richard Ross confirmed: “that on Thursday afternoon at 4:40 p.m., Philadelphia police received a 911 call from the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets alleging disturbance and trespassing.” The two men were arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail where they were placed in a holding cage for approximately eight hours, then released. No charges were made against them. A number of the people in the store at the time made known to the officers that the men were doing nothing wrong.

 

Fortunately, the men were unarmed and cooperated with the police or the outcome of the incident could have been tragic owning to the experiences of other men of color interacting with police officers. However, the primary question is why were they arrested, cuffed, and taken to jail in the first place? We cannot be certain of the specific reasons, but we can certainly address some possibilities that led to the incident. One reason has to do with implicit cultural bias. The person who called 911 and informed the police that the two men were creating a disturbance and trespassing did so because of the perception and judgment of the men. Perhaps men of color did not frequent that particular Starbucks, so their presence was unusual for the caller to experience. So their presence in the store created in her a sense of fear.

 

After the incident, both Philadelphia’s mayor and the police Commissioner made statements relative to their concerns about the incident. The Commissioner commented that his officers did nothing wrong; they simply followed orders requested by Starbucks. He also underscored the point that all his commanders received implicit bias training. He also stated that all the new recruits visit both the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The visits to these museums are supposed to show the recruits ethnic atrocities committed by policing

 

The mayor commented that seeing the headlines of the Starbucks incident in the headlines

was disheartening to him and the incident “appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.”He also suggested that Starbucks’ apology was not enough to satisfy his concerns about the incident and that he would look into whether the employees at Starbucks’ should receive more implicit bias training.

 

The one key phrase used by both the Commissioner and the Mayor was “implicit bias training.”To be sure, training is necessary when developing a skill is important, but what is more important and should come before the training is education. Both training and education are parts of the learning experience. However, most of the research over the last decade and longer indicate that people in general only have conscious access to 5 percent of our brains and that much of our brain’s work happens on the unconscious level. In other words, when implicit bias occurs, that does not mean that people are hiding their ethnic and cultural biases; in essence, they do not know they have these biases.

 

Training helps to develop skills while education helps one to understand the skills and how they should be implemented. Training officers, as well as people in general, might help them do their job in some aspect of human relations, but education is needed for them to understand the presence of implicit cultural biases in their perceptions of people. So, the reference to officers and employees receiving more implicit training seems to be counterproductive if the objective is for them to be cognizant of what they are doing when they are doing it.

 

An example of implicit bias might serve to underscore the point of training and education relative to implicit bias training. An incident occurred a year or so ago where an inmate form a medical facility had left the grounds and was sitting in the middle of the street playing with some object. Someone called 911 and the police arrived. When the attendant who was also in the street talking to the inmate saw the police, he lies on his back and put both hands in the air to show he was not armed or represented a threat to the officers. When an officer approached him with his gun drawn, the attended told him that he worked at the facility and was presently trying to talk the inmate back onto the facility grounds. The European American officer shot the African American attendant in the leg. When the attendant asked the officer why he shot him since he had no weapon and represented to threat to him, the officer answered, “I don’t know.”We might assume that the officer was not thinking but simply reacted to the bias common among European American law officers—a fear of African American males.

 

While we appreciate and applaud the efforts of the Philadelphia Mayor and Police Commissioner relative to the need for implicit bias training, what we feel is more important in addition to the training is implicit bias education. All human beings have biases and prejudices, implicit as well as explicit, but the implicit ones are often unknown to them. With education, they have the opportunity to learn why the training is so important for them and all concerned. First, a bias must be discovered, then embraced, and overcome before success can be achieved. Training to overcome an unperceived bias is wasted time and effort. The officers who viewed the ethnic museums must learn that the experience was not entertainment, but lessons that underscore the fact that were are all implicated in the actions of all human beings.

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3 Comments »

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  1. I’m sure most people who receive such training only know of it by knowing that they have to do it. They are unaware of the history of discrimination that led to the creation of the training.

  2. Much respect Mr. Lehman. I disagree with the training excuse for implicit violence. The defi ition of implicit violence : “Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner”.
    When a police officer reaches for his weapon that is not an unconscious decision. Neither is pointing the weapon or pulling the trigger. They are taught all of the reactions prior to becoming a policeman. What it proves to me is intentional bias is taught if not at the academy then once they become police officers. You are aware that new police officers are told ” forget all that academy bullshit that you were taught. This is real life and the rules are different”. You know that they are taught to shoot to kill. The reason they give is the perp can continue to shoot if he is wounded. We know another reason is ” dead men tell no tales or testify “. This is not a new phenomena the murders of poc. Since their founders the slave patrolers they were rewarded whether the slave was returned dead or alive. The implied bias, more training is a convenience and play for time. The incident gets old, protest fade away, the grand jury if their is one comes back with a not guilty verdict they turn the hour glass over and it begins all over again. I have a plan to address police murders. Once I put it all together I’ll send you a copy. Much respect.
    As-Salaam-Alaikum

    • As-Salaam-Alaikum,

      Please re-read my blog especially the latter of it. I make a clear distinction between implicit training and implicit education; they are not the same thing.

      Thank you for your comments.


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