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December 13, 2017

Fake News check: Philly City Councilwoman Bass didn't call bulletproof glass 'racist'

Media Fake News
12112017_Cindy_Bass_PHL_Council Source/Philadelphia City Council

"The last thing I want are a bunch of empty storefronts, but they need to change their business model," says Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cindy Bass. "These are businesses pushing addictive behavior – whether that’s drugs or alcohol – and we have to call that out.”

Several conservative websites have mischaracterized or flat-out misquoted Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cindy Bass' comment about bulletproof glass installed at the registers of some city corner stores, claiming she called it "racist."

Bass introduced legislation last month that would force some so-called "stop-and-go" stores to remove bulletproof, plexiglas barriers between the cashier and customers. The bill would apply to stores applying for "large establishment" licenses, meaning shops with seating for 30 or more people where food is served.

The councilwoman's reasoning focuses mainly on the nuisances some of these businesses cause. Bass said oftentimes stop-and-go stores in her neighborhood sell drug paraphernalia, beer and liquor "by the shot," attracting public drunkenness and possibly illegal drug sales.

The legislation has come under heavy scrutiny, mainly because of safety concerns for shopkeepers who operate in neighborhoods with high crime rates. One store owner told FOX29 he put bulletproof glass up in his North Philly shop after a shooting occurred.

The bill has since been amended and would not immediately require large establishments to remove the glass. Instead, the city would convene a group to review how to handle 30-seat restaurants, and would decide how to deal with them.

That "could mean the City ultimately decides to leave the plexiglass as is, to remove it completely or something in between," said Karen Guss, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections. She noted the legislation wouldn't impact small restaurants, take-out places or convenience stores.

But much of the criticism from the far right – and in at least one instance widely circulated — media has been about the claim Bass had said or suggested bulletproof glass is racist. As Snopes recently pointed out, these outlets have zeroed in on one specific quote from Bass in the same FOX29 story:

"We want to make sure that there isn't this sort of indignity, in my opinion, to serving food through a plexiglass, only in certain neighborhoods."

Snopes archived two news articles that characterized Bass' comments as calling bulletproof glass racist. First, from the Conservative Tribune, which sidesteps directly quoting Bass but interprets her comments as such:

Big City Dem Wants Bulletproof Glass Banned for Being Racist

We now live in a world where almost anyone and everything can and will be [labeled] “racist.” Some store owners in Philadelphia are the latest victims of the PC police.

Cindy Bass, a councilwoman from Philadelphia’s 8th District, has filed a bill which would make store owners take down Plexiglas in certain areas of town. According to Bass, having thick, safe Plexiglas up in a store is an insult and “an indignity.”

Essentially, Plexiglass is racist, or you’re a racist if you have Plexiglas installed.

Next, from, which claimed in a subhead that Bass had deemed bulletproof glass racist before immediately noting she hadn't used that word:



So perhaps not in so many words but we know how to read between the freaking lines… According to Bass, having this robbery deterrent (<< my words), in stores is an “insult and an indignity”.

And finally, from Mike Cervonich, a conspiracy theorist who frequently peddles hate speech. Cervonich posted a video to his Facebook page, since viewed more than a million times, with a caption that uses quotations around the word "racist." It also says Philly Democrats have approved the bill, when it has only been passed in committee to go to council for a full vote:

Philly Democrats Approve Bill Banning Shops From Using "Racist" Bulletproof Glass In Majority-Black Neighborhoods.

The first subtitles of the video read: "Philly moves to ban bulletproof windows because they're racist." 

Bass never said bulletproof glass was racist. In a article, she does suggest that the bulletproof glass implies that the clientele in some neighborhoods is dangerous, repeating the "indignity" comment. And both articles from the Conservative Tribune and the zeroed in on the following excerpt from the piece:

Yale sociology professor Elijah Anderson, who has written extensively on Philadelphia’s urban environment said the barrier window sets up “a symbol of distrust” in neighborhoods where many African Americans live.

“Of course some people are bad, but most people who come to that window are good, and they’re not trusted either. That angers, alienates them,” said Anderson, who previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania. “They know they’re civil, honest people. They’re hit with this symbol of distrust and it works on your psyche in subtle ways. You know that you’re devalued as a customer.”

Certainly, Anderson suggests bulletproof glass can have negative effects on black communities. But Anderson does not represent "Philly Democrats" or Bass. More notably, however, Bass' main focus is not how bulletproof glass makes customers feel, but instead on cracking down on businesses that she accuses of fraudulently claiming to be restaurants to obtain liquor licenses, only to sell mainly alcohol and drug paraphernalia. Per an opinion piece from this website:

The purpose? Getting these sorts of establishments “to change their business model.” She said she's focused on places that sell beer, mini-shot bottles and drug paraphernalia in the same store where children are buying “chips, candy and snacks” around the time most people are grabbing breakfast.

“What I want to communicate to people is that these are beer/deli type places,” said Bass, noting the bill would merely bring the city in line with state laws and regulations. “About 90 percent (of these establishments) in my district (with restaurant licensure) don’t even sell food.

“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.”

This article is not an endorsement of Bass' proposal. There are legitimate safety concerns for businesses that might be forced to take down their Plexiglas barriers. In several media reports, shop owners have detailed stories of violent encounters with customers that fueled their decision to put up the glass.

But to suggest Bass or Philly Democrats as a group have decided to completely outlaw bulletproof glass for being racist is a false and misleading claim.

This article has been updated to note the legislation has since been amended.