Most in Clayton have probably heard by now the story of the ten incoming black Washington University students stopped by Clayton police responding to a dine and dash at the IHOP on Clayton road. The students turned out to be innocent. The story received widespread national attention with accusations of racial profiling and bias.
There were calls for the firing of Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy, and #eatingwhileblack became the latest protest mantra. You wouldn’t usually expect such a large response from such a seemingly everyday occurrence. However, it’s no mystery why this relatively small incident received so much national coverage; it fits in with a narrative.
A narrative that says black St. Louisans are targeted by police, and this is the latest example of it. The problem with narratives, however, is that they lose the nuance that is often part of these complex situations.
I do not doubt that racial bias is real and affects the lives of many living in St. Louis. I believe it is our responsibility as a community to do more to eliminate these inequalities in our policing.
However, it’s essential to examine the full context of what happened early in the morning of July 7 before assigning such serious charges of racial profiling to the police’s actions.
It started at 12:52 AM when Clayton Police received a call from the IHOP manager reporting four black teens in their late teens, early 20s wearing basketball shorts and white t-shirts left the IHOP without paying their bill of approximately $60. They were believed to be heading to the Richmond Heights MetroLink Station.
Following the call, Clayton Police made contact with the IHOP manager who added, in addition to the two wearing white tees, one was wearing black pants with a possible white stripe, and one was wearing red.
After searching the area, police made contact with the incoming students, several of which meet the description of the suspects including African American males in white shirts, black pants, and one individual wearing red. Some of the students also carried IHOP bags, and they confirmed they had just left IHOP.
The police informed them of the dine and dash and three of the students presented receipts. Then, according to Clayton Police, two individuals offered to walk back to the IHOP to confirm with the manager that they were not the thieves and the group proceeded back to the IHOP followed by multiple police cars.
After returning to the IHOP, the manager confirmed the students were not the suspects, and the students were free to leave.
I can’t help but ask what were the police supposed to do?
I really do sympathize with the students. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it is truly unfortunate they got such a bad first impression of our city.
I also believe the Clayton Police did a really poor job of improving the situation. Instead of forcing the students to walk back, they could have instead brought the manger to the students. Or they also could have at least offered to give the students rides back to campus after they confirmed they were innocent.
Nevertheless, bad policing does not equal racist policing.
The students matched the general description of the suspects, and it is the police’s duty to follow through with reported crimes.
After all, the IHOP location has already reported over 40 dine and dashes just in the past year. They are a victim just like the students.
Some argue that the police should have used their discretion and let the students go because after all, these are Wash U students and they acted respectfully.
Yet, more discretion isn’t a solution, in fact, wanting more discretion creates room for more racial bias.
If you already believed these police officers were racially motivated in stopping the students, why would you want them to use more of their own opinion to decide if someone is suspect or not?
If you are going to eliminate racial bias, it is better to treat every case the same, white or black.
The fundamental question is whether or not the students were treated differently because of their race and there just isn’t any evidence of that. It is an unfortunate situation all around, but not a solution with any simple solutions.
It is not IHOP’s fault they were stolen from, or is the police’s fault that they investigated the crime, nor is it the students’ fault for going to IHOP. Ultimately, it is the fault of the individuals who committed the crime that created the problem.