On April 12, 2018, a cell phone video shot from a Philadelphia Starbucks showed police as they arrested, handcuffed and escorted two men from the premises. The men had not ordered anything and were talking quietly, waiting to meet a friend. The men were also black.
We saw this video on social media as soon as it happened, never expecting it to go viral. Here is a link to the original Tweet by Melissa DePino who wrote above her live-action video:
“@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 [people] are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”
A white guy in the DePino video tells the cops, “Yeah, I’m meeting them.” When the officers explain that they were called there and didn’t just show up to hassle these two African Americans, the friend asks, “Why did they [the police] get called for? Because there are two black guys sitting here, meeting me?” Very audibly, one officer answers: “Yes.”
The white friend asks, “Well, what did they do?” The officer’s answer is unintelligible, but a woman, perhaps the one recording, pipes up:
“They didn’t do anything. I saw the entire thing.”
The video got 11 million views in one week. Starbucks was in the midst of a racial profiling scandal of national proportions. Protestors of the Starbucks manager’s behavior provoked angry protests: people holding signs deploring Starbucks’ excessive and unfair treatment of members of a racial minority gathered outside the entrance to stores coast-to-coast.
An ABC News Exclusive interviewed Rachon Nelson and Dante Robinson, the two young black men arrested for doing what the white patrons at Starbucks say they do all the time: sit quietly talking without making a purchase. Joining the interview was their lawyer Stuart Cohen.
The two men’s story is that, after entering the Philadelphia Starbucks, Robinson sat at a table while Nelson asked to use the restroom as soon as he walked in. A female store employee at the register told Nelson that restrooms were reserved for paying customers only. He “let it go” and joined Robinson where they sat and talked. The same clerk came from behind the counter and approached them at their table, asking if she could help them with anything, would they like to start with some drinks or water?
Robinson told the employee they were fine (they had brought bottles of water in with them), they were just waiting for a meeting, and would be leaving quickly.
The two men arrived around 4:35pm for their 4:45pm business meeting concerning a real estate deal that had been in the works for months. 911 emergency phone records placed the Starbucks store manager’s call to the police at 4:37pm.
When they saw the police arrive, Robinson thought, “They can’t be here for us.”
Nelson said the police told the two men they would have to leave, without questioning either about a problem that might exist between them and the store manager, or what had happened.
Fortunately, the arresting officers failed to read Miranda rights or notify either man as to what charges they intended to press before they applied handcuffs and loaded the two black men into their waiting squad car. This clumsy procedure will no doubt lead to an easy dismissal to this dismal case.
When asked about Starbuck’s rule that people who don’t buy anything must leave, the duo’s attorney Cohen pointed out that the corporate website “holds itself open as a place for people to meet and to have public conversations.”
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson agreed to mediation with a retired federal judge in Philadelphia. This process is ongoing.
Robinson is looking for a positive outcome from his ordeal. He said he wants other young men to be motivated and inspired by these events rather than traumatized. Nelson agreed, saying he hopes to
“take this opportunity as a stepping-stone to really stand up and show your greatness, and that you are not judged by the color of your skin as our ancestors were – or anyone else. You know, this is something that has been going on for years and everyone is blind to it, but they know what’s going on – if you get what I mean.”
Nelson is lobbying for true change that substitutes action for mere words. His goal?
“Help people understand that it’s not just a black people thing: it’s a people thing.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Starbucks immediately announced it would close 8,000 stores nationwide for an afternoon of “racial bias training.” This happened on May 29, 2018, when “175,000 Starbucks employees talked about racial bias,” as covered by CNN Money. Do you think a four-hour crash course on the ugly illegality of biased prejudice will produce the desired results?
Company Chairman Howard Schultz knows four hours is just the beginning of a great idea they should have had a long time ago, given events earlier this year:
“We realize that four hours of training is not going to solve racial inequity in America.”
Starbucks will add a section on racial tolerance training into standard employee onboarding procedures. Furthermore, “the 7,000 licensed stores — including those operated by hotels, grocery stores and airports — that did not participate in the training today will do so over the next year.”
Despite this American scandal, Starbucks stock (ticker: SBUX) has remained fairly flat since April. However, the news released last Friday by the coffee consortium’s CEO Johnson that third-quarter sales will be lower than formerly projected, coupled with the planned slowing of opening new licensed stores and the closure of about 150 underperforming corporate stores in 2019, caused shares to plummet from $57.43 to $50.62. The $7 per share decrease is more than a 12 percent loss in the three days from June 19 to June 21.
According to CNBC, Johnson said in a statement:
“We must move faster to address the more rapidly changing preferences and needs of our customers. Over the past year, we have taken several actions to streamline the company, positioning us to increase our innovation agility as an organization and enhance focus on our core value drivers which serve as the foundation to re-accelerate growth and create long-term shareholder value.”
Guess what Starbucks’ fearless leader believes to be the key to success? Now, don’t laugh:
“The number one thing to unlock comp growth in the U.S. is expanding the number of digital relationships we have.”
Here’s a bit of gratuitous advice for Mr. Johnson and all the fine folks over at Starbucks, from our Department of Well, Duh:
Viral videos of your management calling the cops to arrest two black dudes who are otherwise minding their own business is not the sort of digital relationship you want to cultivate.
Will Starbucks recover their coffee corporate dominance by going all Amazon on us? We’ll just have to wait and see, in the next episode of “As the Profits Turn.”