Last week, video went viral of two black men being arrested in a Starbucks in Philadelphia for “doing nothing.” A white female Starbucks employee called police after asking the men to leave the establishment if they were not ordering anything. The men told her they were waiting for a friend and declined to order until he arrived. The employee then made the 911 call claiming the men were “trespassing.” Author Melissa DePino, who posted the viral video, told local Philly Magazine that she was “very close” to where the two men were seated and watched the incident unfold.
@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
“The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything,” DePino wrote in her tweet, “They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing.” The video shows the friend, who is white, questioning the police as to why they are arresting his companions. According to Buzzfeed, the friend is Andrew Yaffe who runs a real estate development and management company and was meeting with the two still-unnamed men to discuss potential business opportunities in the area.
The two men were arrested for “defiant trespassing” according to police and fingerprinted and photographed that evening. The District Attorney did not approve the charges, however, and the men were released around 2 a.m. the next morning. The men’s lawyer, Lauren A. Wimmer, wrote in a tweet that the men were “blatantly discriminated against based on their race,” adding, “Not only is this inexcusable, it’s illegal.”
The video speaks for itself. What took place at the 18th and Spruce #Philly @Starbucks was reprehensible. Two young black men, who were simply waiting to be joined by a friend, were blatantly discriminated against based on their race. Not only is this inexcusable, it's illegal.
— Lauren A. Wimmer (@LAWimmerESQ) April 14, 2018
In a video Saturday, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross offered the other side of the story and defended his officers who he said did “absolutely nothing wrong.” Ross explained that Starbucks employees told him that the men had asked to use the washroom, but were told it was for paying customers only. He says they refused to leave when told to by employees and when the police arrived “on three different occasions, the officers asked the males politely to leave the location because they were being asked to leave by employees because they were trespassing.”
Ross added that “as an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias” and added, “We are committed to fair, unbiased policing and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”
Witnesses say that while it was true the men refused to leave when asked, it was because they were peacefully questioning police as to why they were being asked to leave at all.
Many members of the public were unsatisfied with the department’s explanation for the incident. Protests and calls for a Starbucks boycott began over the weekend. In response to the event (or perhaps the negative press), Starbucks released an apology on social media.
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
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson also released a longer apology and said that the company “immediately began a thorough investigation of [it’s] practices” and “will work with outside experts and community leaders to understand best practices.” He reiterated that “Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.” He also expressed an interest in meeting with the two men, who have accepted his invitation, though a date has not yet been set.
Protests and boycotts continue into this week with activists staking out the Starbucks Philadelphia location with signs and chants calling the coffee chain “racist” and “anti-black” and questioning “when will it stop?”
The protest is growing outside the @Starbucks. The woman on the right in the red shirt is 90 years old and told a story about her father who died when she was 9 as a result of racial profiling and police brutality. pic.twitter.com/DxQb5OYtSG
— Melissa DePino (@missydepino) April 14, 2018
protest at Starbucks continues https://t.co/DVS31Poihk
— 5'7'' Black Male (@absurdistwords) April 15, 2018
Protests begin inside Starbucks where two black men were arrested while waiting for a friend last week. pic.twitter.com/M87rukwz8O
— John Kopp (@WriterJohnKopp) April 16, 2018
Protests at the Philadelphia Starbucks where 2 black men were racially profiled. Power to the people. ✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/q3KflNMUO3
— Simar (@sahluwal) April 16, 2018
Outside the Starbucks today pic.twitter.com/vcr9QstkRT
— Melissa DePino (@missydepino) April 14, 2018
— Melissa DePino (@missydepino) April 15, 2018
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has called for a city commission to look into and review the incident. He called the Starbucks apology “not enough” and said that the incident is textbook racial discrimination.
“I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that – at least based on what we know at this point – appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018,” Kenney said in a statement Saturday.