Did a Philadelphia Politician say Bulletproof Glass is ‘Racist’?

Councilwoman Cindy Bass did introduce a bill to outlaw bulletproof glass in certain establishments, but the reasons behind it are more complex than you might expect.

  • Published 12 December 2017
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According to a number of misleading articles published in late 2017, a democratic legislator deemed the inanimate object bulletproof glass to be racist and is now seeking to remove it from the city of Philadelphia.

In November, Philadelphia councilwoman Cindy Bass proposed legislation to establish new regulations for businesses seeking a restaurant license — among them was a provision preventing restaurants with more than 30 seats from using a safety partition that would require customers to be served through a small hole or window. (You can read the bill in its entirety here)

The initial pushback against this bill came from owners of “beer delis,” businesses that operate in the murky area between restaurant and liquor store, who argued that the bulletproof glass in their establishments provided a necessary security measure and that removing such partitions would put them in immediate danger. This criticism took an odd turn, however, when Bass told Fox 29 that there was a “sort of indignity” in serving food through bulletproof glass:

“Right now, the Plexiglas has to come down,” she said.

She says she wants to put some controls on these small stores that, from her point of view, sell booze, very little food and are a source of trouble for her district.

“We want to make sure that there isn’t this sort of indignity, in my opinion, to serving food through a Plexiglas only in certain neighborhoods,” Councilwoman Bass said.

That’s when criticism of Bass and her bill took a hyperbolic and misleading turn on conservative web sites.

The web site Steadfastandloyal.comfor instance, exclaimed that “bulletproof glass is now racist” in their title. However, in the body of the article, they admitted that the councilwoman never actually used those words. 

Here’s a look at how that article was presented. We’ve highlighted the sentence that contradicts the article’s lede:

The Conservative Tribune used a similar tactic, claiming in their headline that “Big City Dem Wants Bulletproof Glass Banned for Being Racist.” The article argues that Bass wants the glass taken down because it hurts African Americans’ feelings — and that in the process, she is putting lives in danger. 

Conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich pushed this rumor to a wider audience when he posted a video on Facebook which contained the text “Philly Moves to ban Bulletproof windows because they’re racist”:

There are certainly legitimate concerns about whether removing bulletproof glass would put employees in danger. However, by focusing on Bass’s “indignity” quote, these articles miss her broader concern: that so-called “beer delis” use restaurant licenses while operating as liquor stores (and selling drug paraphernalia). In an opinion piece for the Philly Voice, Brian Hickey quoted Bass: 

“They sell other products that can be turned into street drugs, like cold medications. They sell crack pipes. If these stores sold hypodermic needles, there’d be outrage, there’d be people screaming to ‘Shut ’em down.’ But with crack pipes, it’s OK? That should tell you something.”

In her own 11 December opinion piece on Philly.com, Bass wrote that her bill had been mischaracterized:

Would you feel safe with an illegal liquor store next door to you, selling shots of cheap booze at 10 a.m. to loitering alcoholics? That’s what my bill debated last week by a City Council committee is about. Unfortunately, the bill has been mischaracterized by the people who run those stores – people who are exploiting a loophole in state law and hurting the neediest neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

[…]

Unfortunately, “stop-and-go” outlets – which are now trying to rebrand themselves as “beer delis” –  have popped up in many poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia. They sell bottles of beer to drink off premises and shots of liquor for people to drink on the spot. Oh, and they also sell candy-flavored cigarillos to get kids hooked on smoking and big boxes of cold medicines that can be turned into street drugs, but they don’t sell much else.

[…]

Legally, the city cannot regulate alcohol sales. But it can set standards for restaurants, and outlets must maintain restaurant licenses to keep their liquor licenses.

On 4 December, the Committee on Public Health and Human Services amended the bill, deferring until 2021 the decision about whether to require restaurants with more than 30 seats to take down their plexiglass barriers.

Bass also denied that there was any “racial” element to the bill. On Twitter she explained that the bill only applied to sit-down restaurants and not traditional convenience stores: