Starbucks apologizes, manager quits after arrest of two black men at Philly cafe

A Starbucks cafe in Rittenhouse Square closed for the day Monday as activists occupied the coffee shop with repeated protests of the weekend arrests of two black men.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, who came to Philadelphia on Monday, said it was “completely inappropriate to engage the police” related to two black men, whose arrests on April 12 for allegedly not buying anything and “trespassing” were caught on cellphone video that went viral and made worldwide headlines.

“The circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome in our store on Thursday were reprehensible. … They were wrong,” Johnson told ABC’s “Good Morning America” from Philly, where he also met with Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Ross to address the incident.

Johnson also promised all Starbucks employees will have “unconscious bias” training.

Meanwhile, the manager at the cafe who originally called 911 decided to leave her position, according to the Inquirer. She has not been identified publicly.

Protests were held Monday at the Starbucks by Philly for REAL Justice in the morning, and in the afternoon by POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild). They shared calls for boycotts of Starbucks and the firing of the police officers involved in the arrests.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross defended the actions of the officers who made the arrests as being within policy and an obligation, due to the call put out by Starbucks staff. But the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-PA) claimed that policing is discriminatory in the section of Center City where this Starbucks is located. The ACLU said that “67 percent of stops in the police service area where the store is located are of African-Americans,” while that group only makes up 3 percent of the area’s population.

“Black Philadelphians face daily indignities when they are simply trying to go about their business. This incident shows that black people can’t even ‘wait while black,'” Reggie Shuford, ACLU-PA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Are black people not welcome in this neighborhood? That’s the message that is sent by police officers who repeatedly stop African-Americans there without cause. … If Commissioner Ross sincerely believes his officers did nothing wrong, merely followed policies and procedures, then those policies and procedures need to be changed.”

The men who were arrested have not yet been identified. Cellphone video of the arrest showed police handcuffing and leading them out after staff called 911 to report trespassing on the males, who they said were in the cafe but hadn’t bought anything. They were released about eight hours later without being criminally charged.

“I’m still not sure who felt threatened at Starbucks and why. I am still not convinced that the men had to be arrested to solve the matter. I’m also finding it hard to believe that if these two black men were anyone else, that they would endure the scrutiny, humiliation and overall embarrassment,” said Jack Drummond, director of the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement, in a statement. “This adds to the everyday trauma faced by black men all over the city, the nation, and unfortunately, in the world, that is caused by racism and discrimination. The best thing these men did was cooperate and not get hostile over the incident.”

Kenney said the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, Police Advisory Commission and Police Department are still reviewing how the incident took place and what training or policy changes they can make.

“I believe Starbucks will cooperate fully with our probes of the matter, particularly the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations’ review of Starbucks’ policies. All parties agree that the outcome of this incident was extremely unfortunate and that’s why we are reviewing the incident seriously,” Kenney said. “This is not just a Starbucks issue. This is a societal issue. People can react differently to others based on skin color, and that is wrong.”

The Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement is planning to host a community meeting about this issue on Thursday, April 19, at 5:30p.m. at Community College of Philadelphia. Click here to learn more.

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