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Black men awaiting business meeting at Starbucks arrested for trespassing

in Feature/Food & Drink/Race and Ethnicity by

Protests and talks of boycotts ensue as Starbucks offers an apology while investigating incident

At any given Starbucks, people meet with or without coffee, or any other product that is sold at one of the thousands of stores.

Starbucks, a behemoth coffee shop company was first founded in Seattle, but over the years, it has developed into a pseudo-public space to work and network for a number of reasons. At any of the thousands of Starbucks across the country, people meet for adequate Wi-Fi, for dates, for brainstorming sessions, and even job interviews.

This is not the case for two black men who were waiting to meet a Jewish investment developer named Andrew Yaffe last Thursday at a Starbucks located in an upper class Philadelphia neighborhood known as Rittenhouse Square.

Author Melissa DePino had been at the same Starbucks. While sitting nearby, she videoed an incident showing two African-American men being questioned then handcuffed and finally perp-walked by a group of law enforcement. All the while, a white man, identified as Yaffe showed up while the black men were being arrested, questions the actions of law enforcement. At one point he says, “This is discrimination.”

Corey R. N. Kirby, a former coffee shop manager and Philadelphia-native who recently relocated to New York said that “Starbucks is a common meeting place where people use it for a lot of different things. I would not see why these two gentlemen were singled out. I was absolutely mortified when I saw [the video] because I am familiar with the location. Watching two men being escorted out of a Starbucks for basically enjoying time spent there is upsetting.”

According to Huffington Post, the store’s manager on duty at the time, a white woman, asked the men dressed in leisure sweatsuits to leave the coffeeshop following their request to use the restroom. She denied them access because they had not made a purchase. At many Starbucks locations (but not all), the bathrooms can only be accessed by a code that is given to customers by employees.

When the patrons refused to leave, the manager called the police. The men were arrested for trespassing.

Ben Waxman, a spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney’s office said that they were released Friday morning with no charges against them per the request of Starbucks.

Kirby, who has worked as a consultant in the food and beverage industry for over two decades and specializes in luxury retail in New York City continues, “A manager is someone who is supposed to be in control at all times. Why would you call the police if there wasn’t any safety issues involved.”

#BoycottStarbucks

Since the video’s release, it has been watched and shared in the millions. On social media, a hashtag #boycottstarbucks has been formed, and a protest at the Starbucks located on 1801 Spruce Street Spruce Street is the subject to protests. People are now calling for the firing of the manager.

Others are undecided about boycotting, but offer alternatives to coffee shops that perform philanthropic service outside of their business.

Since the release of the men, whose names have not been identified, the Philadelphia Police Department responded via Commissioner Richard Ross, who issued a statement on Facebook live.

Commissioner Ross said that officers called law enforcement supervisors who asked the men to leave repeatedly. Because they refused to leave, they performed duties to fulfill “quelling a disturbance … that had to do with trespassing … and had legal standing to make the arrests.” Because Starbucks called the police alleging that the men were trespassing.

Although the police say that they acted within proper protocol, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, the largest organized union of law enforcement in the United States, backed President Donald Trump in his 2016 campaign. The fraternity’s president, John Nesby called Black Lives Matters activists a “pack of rabid animals” in September 2017 when speaking on their demands for more accountability with the office.

Race and Class in Philadelphia

Rittenhouse Square, the ritzy area of the incident has been in the hot seat for its questionable policies. In the priciest section of Philadelphia that houses a diverse, but largely white residential population, economics seems to be the large divide. However, in the US, class often intertwines race, which in ways informs policy.

A group called, The Friends of Rittenhouse Square initiated a ban on sitting in the nearby park with the same name to deter people from smoking marijuana in 017. Last summer, a noose was found hanging from a tree in the public recreational space.

Even with the local racial issues in Philadelphia persisting, Starbucks is in the hot seat. The company issued an apology on Twitter while its CEO, Kevin Johnson followed up with a statement through the company’s website.

Said Johnson, “The video shot by customers is very hard to watch and the actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks Mission and Values. Creating an environment that is both safe and welcoming for everyone is paramount for every store. Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome-the basis for the call to the Philadelphia police department was wrong. Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did.”

ABC’s Good Morning America interviewed Johnson, in which he offered more apologies. “I’d like to have a dialogue with them so that I can ensure that we have opportunity to really understand the situation and show some compassion and empathy for the experience they went through,” he said.

Starbucks is known for initiating a dialogue around the difficult discussion of race with its 2015 campaign, “Race Together.” Now the company must do its own soul searching.

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Kaia Niambi Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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