The Howard County Police Department (HCPD) released a statement this morning that said, in part, that “there is no evidence this incident occurred.”
Since I raised awareness by writing about the controversy, it is appropriate to note the latest developments. So there you have it.
I believe it is important to bear a few larger points in mind:
1) One of the reasons the original poster’s account was shared so widely across social media (and thus came to the present author’s attention) is because the events described were fundamentally plausible. As we know from being attentive news consumers, people of color in the United States are, every day, compelled to deal with racial discrimination that manifests itself in any number of ways. Shopping while black is a real phenomenon, as is police misconduct which disproportionally impacts minority communities.
2) There is a general principle: just because no evidence is uncovered, it doesn’t mean that nothing happened. It means a specific allegation or allegations is/are unproven. Turning to this specific case, it now appears quite possible that these alleged events did not occur or that the facts regarding the incident are substantially different from the version shared on social media. The broader point is that for far too long and far too often, the default position for authority figures in this country has been to deny, deflect, and/or minimize wrongs committed against people of color. This is why I and others said there needed to be an investigation. Based on the account provided by the HCPD, it appears as though a thorough investigation has taken place.
3) How people respond to this alleged incident, and its aftermath, is quite telling. Some folks will be quick to lambast the original poster. Many of these individuals are silent when it comes to allegations of racial discrimination. They need to ask themselves and each other why they are more apt to believe some people compared to others.
4) An event very similar to the one described by the original poster could occur today or tomorrow, in another part of the country or right here in Columbia. I maintain, especially in light of the “couponing while black” incident out of Chicago, that CVS and their customers would benefit if their employees participated in racial bias training. Furthermore, I believe those in law enforcement positions need to undergo bias training at regular intervals to better equip them to understand and protect the communities they serve.
5) It is unfortunate if the original poster deliberately told untruths or embellished a story. One wonders what the motivation might have been to do so, if she did, in fact, prevaricate or otherwise spin a yarn. My Midwestern sensibilities say, if this is so, that she might want to consider apologizing to CVS and the HCPD. Again, I don’t know her or the facts beyond what has been reported. I wasn’t at the CVS and I am not inside of her head.
6) Regardless of the specifics of this particular instance, it is imperative to remain vigilant against discriminatory behaviors. With so many racist Americans feeling emboldened to act out and harm others, mindful anti-racists must be prepared to confront such behaviors…ones engaged in by individuals as well as by institutions.
So there it stands. I still consider this to be a story-in-progress…with more than a little fog surrounding it. If CVS and the HCPD acted as reported, then they behaved properly, responsibly, and professionally in this matter. One last thing: from a communications standpoint, CVS could and should have done a better job getting their narrative out. Silence is not a smart strategy.