A recent video has shocked the internet. While the incident brought about no violence of any kind, it did lead to the wrongful arrest of two men, for a simple action that many of us have done ourselves.
Two African-American men were waiting for a friend in a Starbucks in Philadelphia’s downtown district last Thursday when they caught the attention of the staff working there. For the crime of sitting and waiting in the café before they ordered, they were asked to leave, and eventually the police were called in to arrest the pair.
Melissa DePino caught the arrest on camera, and posted the video onto Twitter, which has caused an uproar from many who saw the arrest as an example of racial prejudice. Along with the video, in which other patrons can be heard saying that the two “didn’t do anything”, DePino wrote:
“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 people are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”
In response to the anger against both the police and the actions of the Starbucks staff, the corporation responded with an official statement posted on its Twitter account. In the statement, they apologized to the individuals and said they are “disappointed this led to an arrest”. They promised to review their policies and “continue to engage with the community and the police department to try to ensure these types of situations never happen”.
Despite the criticism to this response, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross claimed that they “did absolutely nothing wrong”. Ross posted a video statement on Facebook, in which he explained that Starbucks employees called the police to report a trespassing complaint. The officers claimed they asked the two men to “politely leave the location because they were being asked to leave by employees because they were trespassing”. When they didn’t, they were instead handcuffed and arrested “without incident”.
Ross, who is African-American, referenced his own experiences in the video, saying, “As an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias” and promised that they are “committed to fair and unbiased policing and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”
On Monday Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized for the arrests, claiming that the incident was “reprehensible”. In various interviews to control the controversy, Johnson said he hopes to meet the men face-to-face to personally apologize.
“In watching the video, it was painful, and that the incident that escalated and the outcome from it was reprehensible,” said Johnson. “It is my responsibility to ensure that we do a complete review and to make sure we understand how this could ever happen.”
“That ambiguity was part of what caused the problem, the ambiguity about when and whether to call the police. There are situations where it’s appropriate to call the police, situations where there are threats or disruptions in our store. This situation had none of that and these two gentlemen did not deserve what unfolded.”
Johnson stated that the employees involved in the incident will be receive training on “unconscious bias”. In the meantime, many continue to boycott Starbucks and protest outside of the Philadelphia location. Hopefully, this is a wake-up call to many for how people are treated differently even in 2018.