Tuesday , April 17, 2018 - 9:13 AM
(c) 2018, The Washington Post.
PHILADELPHIA - The chief executive of Starbucks has personally apologized to two black men who were arrested while waiting at one of the coffee chain’s stores last week, an incident that triggered heated protests and calls for a boycott.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized in a private meeting with the two men Monday, a company spokeswoman confirmed to The Washington Post. The spokeswoman, Jamie Riley, did not provide any additional details.
Johnson, who rushed from Seattle to Philadelphia over the weekend as the backlash erupted, also met with Philadelphia’s mayor and police commissioner.
The chief executive has called for “unconscious bias” training for Starbucks store managers and publicly apologized for what he called “reprehensible” circumstances that led to the arrest of the two men at a store in Philadelphia’s Center City district Thursday.
“I will fix this,” Johnson said in a video message.
Separately, he told “Good Morning America” that “what happened to those two gentlemen was wrong” and said the company was reviewing the actions of the store manager who had called police.
“My responsibility is to look not only to that individual but look more broadly at the circumstances that set that up just to ensure that never happens again,” Johnson said Monday.
Starbucks said later that the manager “is no longer at that store.”
Early Tuesday morning, Rittenhouse Square had all but returned to normal as residents of the relatively upscale neighborhood walked their dogs and others hurried to work. After temporarily closing the day before, the Starbucks at the corner of 18th and Spruce had reopened, with its neat displays of chicken BLT protein boxes and sparkling mimosa gourmet gummies.
News cameras staked out their places on the pavement, waiting for protesters who never came. One customer, greeting a friend, said that, yes, “this is the Starbucks it happened in!”
But few others inside had any interest in talking about the incident that brought cameras to the neighborhood in the first place.dent that brought cameras to the neighborhood in the first place.
A day earlier, protesters convened at the same store, initially gathering outside before being driven inside by heavy rain. One person in the crowd hoisted a sign that read, “Is she fired or nah?” - a reference to the store manager who called police. Others chanted, “Anti-blackness anywhere is anti-blackness everywhere.”
Just before 1 p.m. on Monday, a reporter tweeted a photo of a sign outside the Starbucks that said the location was temporarily closed.
Rosalind Brewer, the company’s chief operating officer, talked about the company’s call for unconscious bias training for store managers in a morning interview with NPR and called the incident a “teachable moment for all of us.” She said that as an African-American executive with a 23-year-old son, she found the cellphone videos taken of the Thursday afternoon incident painful to watch.
“It would be easy for us to say that this was a one-employee situation, but I have to tell you, it’s time for us to, myself included, take personal responsibility here and do the best that we can to make sure we do everything we can,” Brewer told NPR.
At least two cellphone videos captured the tense moment when at least six Philadelphia police officers stood over two seated black men, asking them to leave. One officer said that the men were not complying and were being arrested for trespassing.
“Why would they be asked to leave?” Andrew Yaffe asked on a video. Yaffe runs a real estate development firm and wanted to discuss business investment opportunities with the two men. “Does anybody else think this is ridiculous?” he asked people nearby. “It’s absolute discrimination.”
The two unidentified men were taken out in handcuffs soon after. They were held for nearly nine hours before being released, said Lauren Wimmer, an attorney who represented the men over the weekend. No charges were filed, authorities said.
One of the videos of the arrest rocketed across social media, with more than 9 million views by Monday morning.
Benjamin Waxman, a spokesman for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, said over the weekend that the office decided that there “wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge [the men] with a crime.”
Johnson said Monday that there are scenarios that warrant a call to police - including threats and other disturbances - but that in this case, “it was completely inappropriate to engage the police.”
The police were criticized for their handling of the situation. On Monday, the department referred to the police commissioner’s Facebook Live video from Saturday. Commissioner Richard Ross said in the video that one or both of the men asked to use the restroom but had not purchased anything. An employee said Starbucks company policy was to refuse the use of the restrooms to non-customers and asked the men to leave, according to Ross. The employee called the police when they refused.
“These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy; they did what they were supposed to do. They were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen,” Ross said in the video. “And instead, they got the opposite back.” Ross said police arrested the men after they refused three requests to leave.
Ross, who is black, said he was aware of issues of implicit bias - unconscious discrimination based on race - but did not say whether he believed it applied in this case. He said the incident underscores the need for more body-worn cameras to present different perspectives of police responses. The officers were not wearing cameras, he said.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney met with Starbucks executives Monday and said they “were very contrite,” according to The Associated Press.
Kenney said in a statement that 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.”
He added: “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. We have work to do, and we need to do so productively.”
Starbucks does not have a companywide policy on asking members of the public to leave, a company official said. The company leaves safety and customer service protocol decisions up to store managers, said a company official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe internal discussions. Managers may leave restroom doors unlocked or add key-code entries if they feel the store is more at risk of criminal behavior. A store in the same area of Philadelphia was hit with an armed robbery recently, the official said.
The Starbucks official acknowledged that the incident is at odds with a common practice at Starbucks. The stores are “community” hubs, the official said, where people often drop in to use the WiFi or chat with friends without necessarily buying anything.
Wimmer, the attorney who represented the two men, said she spent a good portion of her time in law school in Starbucks without buying much and never had a problem with store employees. The incident was about race, Wimmer, who is white, said. She suggested an experiment: Go to a Starbucks and assess the demographics of people sitting there.
“Who is the manager going to call and say, ‘Please leave?‘ “ she asked.
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Horton reported from Washington.
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