It’s time to Break It Down!
Last Thursday, the Starbucks franchise surged toward the top of trending media topics. And, I might add, not for good reason. As almost anyone not firmly ensconced under a rock, or immersed in a Rip Van Winkle-like slumber knows by now, a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called police and urged them to arrest two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson. Which they did! Spoiler alert; the men were black.
As they waited for a friend to join them, the store manager concluded that since they declined to make a purchased, they had to leave. This resulted in the manager calling the police and asking that they arrest the men. The officers detained the men, complete with handcuffs, the perp walk out of the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets in the Center City District.
A number of people in the coffee shop, at the time, captured video of the incident, and some tweeted about it. One person who did both was Melissa DePino, a novelist. She tweeted the following:
@Starbucks “The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”
Public reports reveal that police were initially called because two black men had not ordered anything and were waiting for their friend. In essence the men were arrested, placed in a police cruiser, and considered a threat while actually not having done anything. In an 8-minute long video, the two black men can be seen maintaining a calm demeanor throughout the duration of their encounter with the officers. One of the officers can be heard saying the men were asked to leave the Starbucks for reasons that remain unclear.
Brittany Packnett was another witness/tweeter. In the midst of the incident, she posted on her Twitter account:
“The extremely jacked up part is how calm these two brothers are as they’re walking out in handcuffs for doing *exactly nothing* because they already know their totally righteous anger could end in their death.
This is tired. Racism is tired. What say you, @starbucks?!!”
If we were on the Game Show Jeopardy, the answer would be: What is being guilty of “waiting while black,” Alex?
Ms. Packnett directed her tweet straight to the source, Starbucks. To their credit, it appears the Company was not only attentive, but also responsive. They began by issuing their own tweet:
Replying to @MsPackyetti
We’re aware of the incident on Thursday in a Philadelphia store with 2 guests and law enforcement, resulting in their removal. We’re reviewing the incident with our partners, law enforcement and customers to determine what took place and led to this unfortunate result.
10:34 PM – 13 Apr 2018
That was not Starbucks’ only measure of response. Moreover, it was far from the most significant. Starbucks Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Kevin Johnson has taken several steps to both make clear his, and the Company’s concern about the incident, and to show in no uncertain terms that the events that unfolded in Philadelphia nearly a week ago do not reflect the culture that Starbucks is invested in, and committed to deepening and expanding.
Johnson called the actions of his employee reprehensible! He went on to take ownership by stating plainly, “I am accountable.” He added, “I will fix this.” He also said that his responsibility was not just to look at that individual, but to look more broadly at the circumstances that led to the incident in order to take steps to make sure that it never happens again.
The manager of the store no longer works for Starbucks. Mr. Johnson flew from Seattle to Philadelphia and met personally with Nelson and Robinson on Monday; he apologized to them during the meeting.
Johnson called for “unconscious bias” training for Starbucks store managers. Rosalind Brewer, the company’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), who happens to be African American, weighed in on the matter, including the call for training for the store managers. In an interview with NPR, she referred to the matter as a “teachable moment for all of us.” She noted that as an African American executive with a 23-year-old son, she found the videos painful to watch. She went on to add:
“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 to do the best that we can to make sure we do everything we can.”
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.”
On Monday, Johnson said 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.”
To be clear, Starbucks does not have a universal policy on asking members of the public to leave. The company delegates safety and customer service protocol decisions to store managers. For example, managers may leave restroom doors unlocked or add key-code entry control if they feel the store is more at risk for criminal behavior.
One Starbucks official acknowledged that the incident is at odds with common practice at Starbucks. He noted, “The stores are community hubs where people often drop in to use the Wi-Fi or chat with friends without necessarily buying anything.”
Lauren Wimmer, who happens to be white, is the attorney who represented the two men. She said she spent a good portion of her time in law school at Starbucks without buying much and never had a problem with store employees. She asserted the incident was about race.
I would be remiss to close out this post without making a salient observation. The blog has centered on a dynamic encounter between three distinct elements: African American males, an urban police department, and a largely white business establishment. The business called the police on the black guys, the black guys remained calm under pressure, and the police, clearly did not fear for their lives…translation, the black guys are still alive. Perhaps, more notably, at the end of the day, by most accounts, neither the black guys nor the police officers were deemed to have been at fault. How cool…and rare, is that? Unless you represent Starbucks in this tribe-part scenario, that is.
In response to Starbucks’ commitment to train its employees in the wake of the arrest of two black men in Philadelphia last Thursday, the company has announced it will close 8,000 company-owned stores and train approximately 175,000 employees on Tuesday afternoon, May 29th. Ms. Brewer, the COO, referred to this incident as a “teachable moment for all of us.” As time races inexorably toward May 29th, my sincere hope for Ms. Brewer and the Starbucks family, for Mssrs. Nelson and Robinson, as well as for any of you who may be coffee lovers, is that Starbucks can “Forget The Mistake. Remember The Lesson!” I’m done; holla back!
Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com. Find a new post each Wednesday.
To subscribe, click on Follow in the bottom right hand corner of my Home Page at http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com; enter your e-mail address in the designated space, and click on “Sign me up.” Subsequent editions of “Break It Down” will be mailed to your in-box.
Consult the links below for more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post: