They were there for a business meeting. Starbucks says it’s sorry. The police chief says officers did nothing wrong.
Two black men were arrested and escorted out of a Philadelphia Starbucks on Thursday after staff called the police to report they refused to leave; the men hadn’t ordered anything and were reportedly waiting for a business associate to arrive. The staff reportedly called 911 because Starbucks does “not allow nonpaying people from the public to come in and use the restroom,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross told the Philadelphia Inquirer. The employees said the men were trespassing and had refused to leave the restaurant.
A video of the incident has swept across the internet and sparked widespread outrage, prompting Starbucks to issue a less-than-satisfying apology on Saturday afternoon. CEO Kevin Johnson issued a lengthy statement on the incident on Saturday evening and said he wants to meet personally with the men arrested to apologize.
The saga began when a video posted on Twitter on Tuesday showed police arresting two black men in Twitter for “doing nothing,” in the words of the user who posted the video. Two people — not the men — can be heard protesting as the police remove the men’s chairs and escort them out. “This is ridiculous,” one white man says to an officer in the video. The men do not protest.
The video has been viewed more than three and a half million times on Twitter since Thursday.
@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. pic.twitter.com/0U4Pzs55Ci
— Melissa DePino (@missydepino) April 12, 2018
Police responded to the call and to keep things from “getting out of hand,” he said, and asked the men to leave, as Starbucks did not want them there. Ross defended the officers, saying they “did absolutely nothing wrong,” but the police department said it was conducting an “internal investigation.”
We are aware of an incident that occurred on 4-12-18 at the Starbucks Café at 18th and Spruce. The entire incident, including the actions of the responding officers, is under internal investigation. Once we gather all the facts, we will comment further.
— Philadelphia Police (@PhillyPolice) April 14, 2018
There are a lot of questions here, and they’re not just about the police.
The video of the incident shows at least six police officers taking the two men into custody — a high number, given they were doing nothing.
The obvious question: Beyond the police’s response, why were they called in the first place? People meet in Starbucks all the time, and they wait for others in the restaurant before ordering. Starbucks issued an apology on Saturday to the “two individuals and our customers” and said the company is “disappointed” that it led to an arrest. “We are reviewing our policies and will continue to engage with the community and the police department to try to ensure these types of situation never happen in any of our stores,” the statement says.
We apologize to the two individuals and our customers for what took place at our Philadelphia store on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/suUsytXHks
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 14, 2018
Johnson in a longer statement released on Saturday evening reiterated the apology and said the company plans to investigate the incident and “make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.” He said Starbucks is “firmly against discrimination or racial profiling” and that he hopes to meet the men “to offer a face-to-face apology.”
A second video from the Thursday incident posted on YouTube shows an extended version of what happened. The two black men who are ultimately arrested speak calmly to police. A third man, later identified real estate developer Andrew Yaffe, who is white, appears and protests.
“Does anybody else think this is ridiculous?” he asks, calling it “absolute discrimination.” Yaffee spoke with attorney Lauren Wimmer about the incident, and she talked to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He was meeting with the two gentlemen at the Starbucks to discuss business,” Wimmer said Saturday, identifying Yaffe as a friend. “These two guys are business professionals in commercial real estate.”
Wimmer is representing the men who were arrested, who have not been identified publicly. She told the Inquirer she believes the reason for the arrest was “completely based on race” and noted there was “no indication any crime was being committed.”
Starbucks is not the first major restaurant chain to come under fire for racial discrimination. In 1994, Denny’s agreed to pay more than $54 million to settle racial discrimination lawsuits; in 2004, Cracker Barrel paid $8.7 million in discrimination lawsuits.
Update: Story updated with statement from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.