By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Starbucks is one of the companies that put Seattle on the global map. Now, it’s making headlines again — and not in a good way.
I always thought Starbucks was a place where I could meet with friends and hang out for hours on end. Apparently not, especially if you’re Black.
If you’re Black, you’ll be asked to buy something or leave. And if you don’t leave, the police will come and take you away in handcuffs.
The 911 call that brought police to a Starbucks in Philadelphia on April 12, resulting in the arrest of two Black men, lasted only seconds.
“Hi, I have two gentlemen at my café that are refusing to make a purchase or leave. I’m at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce,” a Starbucks employee told police.
“Why would they be asked to leave?” Andrew Yaffe, who’s white, asked on a video. This is the best use of white privilege, by the way. Yaffe runs a real estate development firm and wanted to discuss business investment opportunities with the two men. “Does anybody else think this is ridiculous?” he asked people nearby. “It’s absolute discrimination.”
Police were told that the men had asked to use the store’s restroom, but were denied because they hadn’t bought anything, and they refused to leave. The two unidentified men were taken out in handcuffs. One of the videos of the arrest rocketed across social media, with more than 10 million views by April 17.
The men were held for nearly nine hours before being released. No charges were filed.
The incident is a major blow to Starbucks’ image, since the company has promoted its coffee shops as neighborhood hangouts.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said, “Starbucks was built around the concept of a third place, where we create a warm and welcoming environment for all customers. What I do know is that did not happen in this instance. And that is what we’re focused on.”
Johnson met with the two men on April 16 and apologized for how they were treated, a company spokesperson said.
A day later, Starbucks announced that it will close 8,000 of its stores in the United States during the afternoon of May 29 — to educate employees about “unconscious bias.”
Johnson also said, “Every company makes mistakes, but great companies are the ones that learn from those mistakes and take appropriate action. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
I hope so Mr. Johnson, I hope so.
A video shot in January at a southern California Starbucks is now gaining more attention since the Philly incident.
Shaun King, activist and co-founder of Real Justice, shared the clip week with the message, “Here we go again. Meet Brandon Ward. He was @Starbucks — about to make a purchase — and needed to use the restroom.
They denied him the code. He then finds a white man, Weston, who came out of the restroom. He had not made a purchase, but they gave HIM the code. RACISM.”
To be Black is to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time because, in America, it seems there is never a right place for Black people.
Is this the America you want for yourself and your kids?
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.