The call was brief, and had the relaxed feel of someone making a reservation at a restaurant.
“I have two gentlemen at my cafe who are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager of the Starbucks told the 911 dispatcher. She calmly gave her address, and after being reassured that law enforcement would be on the way shortly, she thanked the dispatcher and hung up. The call, of which audio was released by the Philadelphia Police Department, lasted roughly 20 seconds.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two men, both black, did not know the manager had called the police. They say that only a few minutes had passed between when they entered Starbucks and when they were surrounded by Philadelphia police officers.
Americans, on the whole, make millions upon millions of calls to 911 each year requesting police assistance. But there are differences in who makes such calls, and for what purpose. That’s in part because black Americans have a much more contentious relationship with police officers than white Americans—and that has a pronounced impact on the differences in the tendency to seek help or report crimes.
Black people are less likely to call the police than white people. According to federal data on requests for police assistance from 2011—before many of the high-profile killings of black Americans that are etched into the collective national memory—black Americans were slightly less inclined to call police for help than their white counterparts. The data hint at the result of that estimation black people make daily: whether involving police will help a situation or make it worse. Marginalized communities do not feel confident in reaching out to the authorities that are created to protect them—and that is extremely problematic.