Monday, 23 Apr 2018
Business

Protest against Starbucks after controversial arrests

PENNSYLVANIA – Several protesters protested Sunday outside a Starbucks in Philadelphia after the arrest of two African-Americans, who allegedly refused to leave the store. The event took place on the outskirts of Center City at the intersection of 18th Street and Spruce Street, and quickly intensified. The participants, who carried loudspeakers, confronted the employees behind the cash register. The action on Sunday came as a result of a video posted on social media showing two black men in handcuffs and escorted out of the cafeteria on Thursday, despite claiming they were waiting for a friend. On Saturday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said he wanted to personally apologize to the two men. Johnson posted a long statement on the company’s website, describing the situation as “discouraging” and “reprehensible.” “We would love to meet these two men and apologize personally,” he told our sister network NBC10, Camille Hymes, regional manager of Starbucks. “We assume responsibility.” A man who joined the group chanted: “Today, this space is safe,” he said, “assured by the people.” Some protesters carried signs that read “Too Little Too Latte” and “#Enough Shame On Your Starbucks.” Outside, one of the organizers said that “we will no longer tolerate racial prejudice.” The protesters demanded that the store manager, who called the police to arrest the two men, be fired. Hymes, who met with protesters at Starbucks on Sunday, did not say the request would be met. “We want her out and once she’s fired, then we can have a conversation,” said Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania activist Asa Khalif, who attended Sunday’s protest. Hymes said the company still had work to do. “This incident does not reflect the spirit of our brand,” said Hymes. “It was an unfortunate incident and we’ll make sure we do it right.” Authorities were called to Starbucks on Thursday afternoon when the two men allegedly stayed in the store after a manager told them they had to ask for something, witnesses said. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said they received a 911 call from Starbucks reporting a riot and break-in. The employees told the police that the men entered the store, sat down and then used the bathroom, according to Ross. “Starbucks said that, according to their company’s policy, they do not allow people who do not pay to enter and use the bathroom,” Ross said. “Then they asked these two men to leave, these two men refused to leave and the police were called.” Michelle Saahene told our sister network NBC10 that she was inside the store when the agents spoke with the two men. “The two young people politely asked why they were being asked to leave and they were not given a reason other than not to have bought something,” he said. Saahene said more officers came in and told the men repeatedly that they had to leave, but the men refused. “The two boys sat there calmly and said they had not done anything wrong, and that they were there waiting for a friend,” Saahene said. “The cops started moving chairs and tables out of the way between them and the two men.” Then the officers made the men stand up and handcuffed them, according to Saahene. “They actually handcuffed them because they did not buy coffee with artificial milk,” Saahene said. Saahene said a friend of the two men came in when the officers placed them in handcuffs and asked why they were being arrested, to which the officers responded: “raiding.” “[The friend] said: ‘But this is a public space, we are in Starbucks, how is this illegal invasion considered?’ The agents said that the two men were not paying the clients and that they were therefore trespassing, “said Saahene. Officers then escorted the handcuffed men out of Starbucks, according to Saahene. “I’m black and it was like that, I was afraid for them,” he said. “I was so angry that I was shaking, I was furious, I even went to the manager … I asked the barista why he called the police.” Saahene said that at no time did the two men get angry or raise their voices. “A lot of people hang out at Starbucks without buying something,” Saahene said. “There was nothing about his appearance or behavior that represented a threat, the only possible explanation is his race.” Commissioner Ross defended the actions of his officers, saying they did nothing wrong and followed the policy. But Kevin Johnson said it was wrong for the store to call the police and promised to make “necessary changes” to the company’s practices. “I should expect more from us,” Johnson said, adding that he will visit Philadelphia and meet with the regional manager in the coming days. The men, who have not been identified, were later released after Starbucks refused to press charges for breaking and entering. Riley Ross, a civil rights lawyer not associated with the incident, told NBC10 that the two men who were arrested would have to prove a pattern of discrimination to have a legal case against Starbucks. “If it’s a private business, they can ask you to leave,” Ross said. “Now if it turns out that they are doing it for some discriminatory reason, that goes against the law.” Ross also said he has other concerns about the incident besides the legal ones. “I do not see a 911 call coming in and then there’s no answer and there are two white gentlemen who are saying, ‘I have not ordered any coffee yet and I’m not ready to leave,'” Ross said. “I do not know if that will produce the demonstration of strength that we saw in this video.” The incident has gained national attention since a video was posted on social media. Another protest at Starbucks is scheduled for Monday starting at 7:00 a.m. Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson will also join community leaders during a press conference outside Starbucks at 4:00 p.m. to address the incident and “denounce racial profiling in places of public accommodation”.

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