The myth of Howard County exceptionalism was dealt another shattering blow recently. The Columbia Mall shooting of January 25, 2014 alone should have revealed the complete lack of a bubble separating our communities from the rest of America.
And now, apparently, yet another ugly reminder of life in the U.S.A. in these troubled times has occurred right here in our neighborhoods. Let’s call it for what it is: a manifestation of racism at the personal and systemic levels.
[Note: I am sure 50 lawyers will scream in unison that I need to use the word “alleged” to describe what follows. So fine, these are “alleged” events based on one person's account of a series of events. That said, I believe her].
LaRhonda Perkins’ post regarding her experience at a local CVS is infuriating, terrifying, saddening, and all-too common. The details can be found on any number of Howard County, Maryland-centric public forums but the gist is that Ms. Perkins (a Black woman) was accused of shoplifting at a local CVS Pharmacy by a customer (a white female). A CVS employee and Howard County Police Department (HCPD) personnel decided to side with the white female customer (who physically assaulted Ms. Perkins!) and took actions that were grossly inappropriate. Despite zero evidence of Ms. Perkins shoplifting, just the baseless accusations of a random customer who demonstrated their violent nature, the CVS employee detained her, preventing Ms. Perkins from leaving the store. Meanwhile, the HCPD officers treated Ms. Perkins in a highly disrespectful manner.
It’s time for a simple thought experiment. I can speak, with absolute confidence, that if I (a white male) was accused of shoplifting:
1) No one would try putting their hands on me, as that customer did to her.
2) The CVS employee would have accepted my point, if I explained to them as Ms. Perkins did, that I could not possibly have any purloined items on my person. They definitely would not have called the police on me…but they would have called 911 on the customer who assaulted me.
3) The police would not have insisted upon a search and ordered me around as they did Ms. Perkins. The police would have been far more professional, polite, and by the book (note: why did the male officer initiate the search? Beyond the fact that it seemed unnecessary, shouldn’t a woman officer have been the one conducting such a search?). Where was the sincere apology to Ms. Perkins? Why was the white female customer not arrested for attacking Ms. Perkins?
Assuming the accuracy of Ms. Perkins account, CVS needs to fire the employee and the store manager. At a systemic level, in light of this and the Chicago incident, CVS needs to engage their employees in racial bias training across the nation, as Starbucks did. There needs to be an investigation into the conduct by the HCPD officers and disciplinary action taken against, at least, the original male officer. Both CVS and the HCPD need to issue formal public apologies to Ms. Perkins. Both CVS and the HCPD need to adopt practices to eradicate improper conduct by their personnel, specifically behaviors that stem from racial bias. The woman who assaulted Ms. Perkins needs to be arrested and face charges.
For civility to work, it must be supported by a foundation of justice. If we want to be the community we aspire to be, Ms. Perkins deserves to be treated justly and with civility.