Starbucks boss apologises after arrests of two black men

Video of men being handcuffed at US coffee shop ‘hard to watch’, says chief executive

US coffee shop chain Starbucks has been accused of racial profiling after a video of two black men being arrested at one of their Philadelphia stores went viral, the pair were reported to police for allegedly trespassing. Video: Melissa Depino


Two black men walked into a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon and sat down. Officials said they had asked to use the restroom but because they had not bought anything, an employee refused the request. They were eventually asked to leave, and when they declined, an employee called police.

Some of what happened next was recorded in a video that has been viewed more than 8 million times on Twitter and was described by the chief executive of Starbucks as “very hard to watch.” Details of the episode, which authorities provided Saturday, ignited widespread criticism on social media, incited anger among public officials and prompted investigations.

The video shows the men surrounded by several police officers wearing bicycle helmets in the Starbucks coffee shop. When one officer asks another man whether he is “with these gentlemen,” the man said he was and called the episode ridiculous.

“What did they get called for?” asked the man, Andrew Yaffe, who is white, referring to police. “Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?” Moments later, officers escorted one of the black men out of the Starbucks in handcuffs. The other soon followed. The men, who have not been identified, were arrested on suspicion of trespassing.

Starbucks did not want to press charges and the men were later released, commissioner Richard Ross jnr of the Philadelphia Police Department said in a recorded statement Saturday.

The prosecutor’s office in Philadelphia also reviewed the case and declined to charge the men because of “a lack of evidence that a crime was committed,” Benjamin Waxman, a spokesman for the office, said.

The company apologised on Twitter Saturday afternoon. Later that day, while the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks was trending on Twitter, Kevin R Johnson, chief executive of Starbucks, released a statement in which he called the situation a “reprehensible outcome.”

Racial profiling

Johnson said he hoped to meet them in person to offer a “face-to-face apology.” He also pledged to investigate, and to “make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.”

“Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling,” he said. “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.”

A company spokesman late Saturday would not say whether any employees would face discipline. A longer video of the episode shows police talking with the men for at least four minutes before Mr Yaffe arrives.

He informs police the men they are about to take into custody are “not trespassing” but instead are “meeting me here.”

“That’s absolutely discrimination,” Mr Yaffe said in the video. He declined to comment Saturday. In his statement, the commissioner defended his officers, noting they had asked the men to leave three times because employees had said they were trespassing. The men refused, he said.

“These officers had legal standing to make this arrest,” Mr Ross said. “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 and instead they got the opposite back.

“I will say that as an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias,” he continued. “We are committed to fair and unbiased policing, and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”

About 700 of the department’s 6,300 officers are equipped with body cameras, he added, but the officers involved were not wearing them.

Jim Kenney, mayor of Philadelphia, blamed Starbucks, saying that the episode “appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.”

“Starbucks has issued an apology, but that is not enough,” he said in a statement. He said he has asked the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to examine the company’s policies and procedures. Starbucks said such a review was already under way.

“I know our store managers and partners work hard to exceed our customers’ expectations every day, which makes this very poor reflection on our company all the more painful,”Mr Johnson said in his statement.

“You can and should expect more from us. We will learn from this and be better.” –New York Times