Philadelphia Starbucks Arrests: What We’ve Learned a Week Later

April 19–It has been one week since the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks spun the Seattle-based coffee chain into a whirlwind of controversy and sparked another national discussion about racial bias.

A lot has happened since then — customers have called for boycotts, protests ensued, apologies and criticisms poured in, and racial bias training is scheduled for Starbucks employees next month.

It all started with a short video shared on Twitter of the pair — Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both 23 — being taken out of the store at 18th and Spruce Streets in handcuffs after the manager called police. They had been asked to leave because they hadn’t bought anything, and refused.

Here’s a rundown of events since April 12.

Thursday, April 19

* Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he made the situation surrounding the arrests worse by saying in the days afterward his officers did nothing wrong, arguing that he would have used different words had he known Starbucks allowed people to stay in its cafes for hours without making a purchase. The officers also did not know that, he said, but asserted that they acted within the scope of the law and were respectful to the two men. “They were put in an untenable position,” said Ross, who apologized to the men and announced the department had drawn up new guidelines on handling future calls. He did not say what they were.

* The two men are now speaking publicly, taking their stories nationally by giving interviews to both the Associated Press and ABC’s Good Morning America. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, friends since elementary school, are hoping it won’t happen again. Robinson notes that he’s not sure why he was arrested. Nelson looks at the incident as a “stepping stone” for change. “I want to make sure that … this situation doesn’t happen again,” Robinson said on GMA. “So what I want is for a young man or young men to not be traumatized by this and instead motivated, inspired.”

Wednesday, April 18

* Executive Chairman Howard Schultz appears on CBS This Morning, saying he was both “ashamed” and “embarrassed.”

* POWER, an interfaith group, announces a rally and march for police accountability to be held Thursday, partially in response to Police Commissioner Richard Ross’ comments that the arresting officers acted properly.

* Inquirer and Daily News reporters speak to Rashon Nelson’s neighbors in Southwest Philly. Those who know Nelson portray the former Bloomsburg University fraternity brother and father in favorable light. “Rashon is a good kid, he’s a good father, and he’s not a thug,” said John Gossett, 48.

Tuesday, April 17

* Starbucks announces that it will close all of its U.S. stores for the afternoon of May 29 while its employees undergo “racial-bias education.” “Closing our stores for racial-bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities,” Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said in a statement.

* The Philadelphia Police Department releases recordings of the original 20-second 911 call from Starbucks and radio traffic between officers who responded and dispatchers. In the 911 call, a woman said there were “two gentlemen” in the “cafe who are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” In the subsequent radio traffic, a man reports a “group of males” was “causing a disturbance” before calling for backup and a supervisor.

* The police incident report, obtained Tuesday by the Inquirer and Daily News, notes that the two men cursed at the store manager and refused to leave even though officers asked “multiple times.” It also accused the men of insulting police by saying, “Cops don’t know the laws,” and “Y’all make 45G a year,” remarks to which Police Commissioner Richard Ross alluded in his explanation of the events, released in a Facebook video Saturday.

* The city announces that it will look into other incidents at the same Starbucks location.

Monday, April 16

* Protests at the store on 18th and Market Streets continue, while CEO Kevin Johnson appears on ABC’s Good Morning America to issue a public apology. Johnson also flew to Philadelphia meet with the two men as well as government officials and community leaders.

* Mayor Kenney and the Police Advisory Commission both say the officers who responded to the Starbucks did nothing wrong and followed procedure.

Sunday, April 15

* Black Lives Matter protester Asa Khalif leads a protest at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets where many demanded the firing of the employee who called police. About 75 people attended. “I know the question has come up in terms of whether or not the manager should be fired, and we take full responsibility,” Starbucks regional vice president Camille Hymes said at the time. “We put her in a position that did not allow her to be set up for success — or those two men.”

* A photo of Khalif armed with a bullhorn inside of the store taken by Inquirer photographer Michael Bryant would later be widely used on Twitter as a meme.

Friday, April 13 — Saturday, April 14

* National outrage over the viral video begins to mount. Many take to social media to call the incident racist, while the hashtags @boycottStarbucks and #StarbucksWhileBlack become widely used.

* On Saturday, Commissioner Richard Ross takes to Facebook to stress that the arresting officers did nothing wrong. Later that night, CEO Kevin Johnson pens a letter to the company’s “partners and customer,” noting that the “disheartening situation” “led to a reprehensible outcome.”

* “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,” Mayor Kenney said in his own statement released Saturday. “For many, Starbucks is not just a place to buy a cup of coffee, but a place to meet up with friends or family members, or to get some work done. Like all retail establishments in our city, Starbucks should be a place where everyone is treated the same, no matter the color of their skin.”

* Police and the company begin separate investigations.

Thursday, April 12

* Twitter user Melissa DePino posts the video of the two men being taken away in handcuffs. “@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything,” she wrote. “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.””

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