By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.) – The NAACP has described the arrests of two Black men sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks as “disgraceful” and an “ominous signal”.
As news of the videotaped arrests went viral this week, the civil rights organization issued a statement saying, “The arrest of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks represents another ominous signal on the increasingly dangerous environment for African Americans. Less than two weeks after we honor the life and work of Dr. King and 50 years after the Kerner Commission found racism and police brutality at the root of public unrest in our communities; we still have a long way to go towards becoming a nation where a person is judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin.”
The two men, who remained unidentified at the writing of this story, were reportedly waiting for an associate to join them in the chain restaurant in a posh area of the city on April 12 when a Starbucks manager insisted that they leave. They had already been denied use of the restroom because they hadn’t bought anything. When they calmly refused, the manager called police and asked that they be removed.
As six police officers responded to the call, witnesses in the popular coffee shop rose up in protest. Several White customers stood for justice by questioning why the men were being handcuffed for doing what White people do all the time.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross later said the officers involved did not want to make the arrest, but followed police policy when the manager insisted the men were trespassing.
In the wake of the incident, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson responded with a written; then a videotaped apology in which he promised to “fix this.”
In the video, Starbucks’ Johnson said, in part, “I want to begin by offering a personal apology to the two gentlemen who were arrested in our store. What happened in the way that incident escalated, and the outcome, was nothing but reprehensible – and I’m sorry. I want to apologize to the community in Philadelphia, and to all my Starbucks partners. This is not who we are, and it’s not who we’re going to be. We are going to learn from this and we will be better for it.”
He concluded, “These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable. I am accountable. Now, going through this, I am going to do everything I can to ensure it is fixed and never happens again. Whether that is changes to the policy, in the practice, additional store manager training, including training around unconscious bias, and we will address this.”
The store manager who called police has been removed from employment at that Starbucks. Also, the CEO has requested a meeting with the two men who were arrested.
But civil rights leaders and African-American people know that the kind of racial discrimination that occurred in that Starbucks is common place around the nation – not just in Starbucks – but just about everywhere Black people go. On a daily basis, Black men, women and children are racially profiled and stereotyped while engaging in activities that would be considered commonplace for White people.
“The Starbucks situation provides dangerous insight regarding the failure of our nation to take implicit bias seriously,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson in the statement. “We refuse to believe that our unconscious bias – the racism we are often unaware of — can and does make its way into our actions and policies.”
“We know if two black men in Philadelphia require six police officers to handcuff and arrest them for waiting to order coffee, then we begin to understand the mind state that allows for such overzealous and reactionary use of deadly force by those who are paid to serve and protect,” Johnson said.
The NAACP’s Johnson pointed to other recent incidents that indicate the state of racism in America: “How else can we explain why 14-year-old Brennan Walker who missed his bus on his way to school would be shot at by a homeowner just outside Detroit? Or explain Saheed Vassell, a mentally-ill man in Brooklyn fired at ten times and shot dead by police officers. Or why Stephon Clark was shot at 20 times and hit 8 times mainly in the back by police officers in Sacramento, based on the assumption that he was the culprit responsible for breaking into cars. We are at least glad in the case of Starbucks that no one mistook a wallet for a gun.”
He resolved that these kinds of incidents are the very reason that African-Americans remain on guard against racism and White supremacy: “Racism and biases that make simply breathing while Black so dangerous will not just go away without our society committing more resources to discussion, education and training on implicit bias and racism. If we refuse to, we’ll continue to face the consequences of our failure to do so.”