Starbucks CEO Kevin R. Johnson apologised this weekend after a case of racial profiling at a Philadelphia location ended with the arrest of two Black men. In a statement calling their the outcome of the incident “reprehensible and the action of the employees “not representative of our Starbucks mission and values.” Johnson addressed a viral video depicting Philadelphia police officers handcuffing and forcibly removing innocent patrons at the request of Starbucks staff. While Johnson’s statement said that the Starbucks employee who called the police did not mean for the incident to end with their arrest, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross told NPR in a statement that he felt the officers “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Their offence? Asking to use the toilets and delaying ordering until a friend arrived.
Onlookers describe their arrest as unwarranted. Melissa DePino has been vocal about the April 12 incident, sharing video footage and her eyewitness account. DePino tweeted, “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.”
The incident has sparked national outrage, prompting protests by local patrons and calls for a national boycott. Philadelphia’s mayor’s office and the police department have initiated investigations, and Mayor Jim Kenney implored Starbucks to implement training to reduce stereotyping and racial bias. Johnson admitted it is a problem Starbucks intends to address through retraining and a dialog with “partners, customers, and community leaders as well as law enforcement.”
Johnson wrote in his statement that Starbucks wants to “reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.” With Americans focused on the actions of a polarising commander-in-chief and the continual reports of Black men and women dying at the hands of the police, the incident could not have come at a worse time for the popular brand. The tide has shifted and Americans are far more motivated to put their money where their mouth is and avoid companies that do not align with their values.
The attorney for both men has clarified they do not hold Philadelphia police responsible, but request a personal apology from Starbucks. In his statement, Johnson indicates he hopes to meet with the men in-person to apologise.
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