Recently, the coffee mega-giant Starbucks has come under scrutiny over the viral incident that occurred at one of their Philadelphia locations. Earlier this month two black males were arrested after the manager called the police stating that they were refusing to leave the establishment.
Welcome to racial discrimination in 2018.
The two men were waiting for another party for a business meeting when the call was made to the police department. They were not being rude, disrespectful or causing a commotion. One simply asked to use the bathroom and the other was waiting to order.
There is nothing uncommon about this situation as Starbucks is usually one of the first places people choose to meet up. In this incident, the manager who called the police showcased her own racial biased at that moment.
For some people, the race is an overplayed topic but for others, it is something they have to remain conscious of every day. For this incident, as much as it may annoy some, the race card has to be played as no other excuse justifies the incident.
It is important to address the location of where this arrest took place. The Starbucks where Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested is located in the Rittenhouse Square, an affluent neighborhood which has the highest racial disparity in the city regarding police pedestrian stops.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people only account for three percent of the residents in that neighborhood in the first half of 2017 but made up two-thirds of the people stopped by police.
As reported by the New York Times, black residents are often targeted by businesses in Rittenhouse Square. Michele Bradshaw reported to the Times of an incident that occurred in early 2017 where she left a Nordstrom Rack store, not far from the Starbucks, because a security guard was following her through the aisles.
Incidents like these are not only secluded to Rittenhouse Square. They happen every day all over the country.
The last time I was at a local Sephora, I saw my younger sister and her black friend being followed by the store manager. They did not realize nor pay attention to the older white lady who continuously turned every corner and pretended to organize the products while staring at them. As I observed this disgusting behavior, my fury only grew when I realized that we were the only people of color in that store and other customers didn’t have an employee continuously asking if they needed help.
As a minority, situations like these happen often which is why I can relate to the anger many feels towards all exterior parties and systems that allowed for the arrests to happen. One of these systems being law enforcement. The police department and officers who showed up to the scene failed Nelson and Robinson, allowing themselves to play into the racial disparity that already plagues the neighborhood.
In response to the ordeal, Richard Ross, the city’s police commissioner initially emphasized that the police “followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen- and instead, they got the opposite back.”
The police did not do their job. Every time they are called out, their job is to assess the situation, especially in an incident that was nonviolent. They are supposed to talk to both parties and reasonably come to a conclusion. If the police had done that, they would have realized, as it was clearly obvious to everyone in that Starbucks and those of us who watched the video, that they were wrongly arresting the two black men.
The last time I drove through southern Tennessee I was pulled over by a police officer whose first questions upon approaching my car was if there were any drugs, if the vehicle was stolen, and interrogated me as to why I was traveling out of Illinois.
As a person of color, I understand the frustration that minorities have towards the police. I would like to fully believe that they are here to protect and serve but incidents like the one at Starbucks or the one I have personally experienced hinder my ability to establish that trust.
While Ross eventually backtracked during an interview with a local Philadelphia television station saying, “The whole thing is unfortunate. Wish it hadn’t happened from start to finish,” the damage is already done.
The incident at Starbucks is just another one people of color get to add to the ever-growing list of how we are discriminated against in 2018. Yes, there are laws that make it illegal for someone to murder us or physically harm us due to our skin color but most racism is not as overtly direct as that.
It is no longer dragging someone or hanging them from trees, but it is prosecuting and arresting them for doing the same legal thing that non-people of color do every day without any fear.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson plans to close 8,000 stores nationwide for an afternoon in May to have staff undergo racial bias training.
This is the best way that Starbucks can address the situation. By ensuring that their staff is aware of how these social issues come into play in everyday life, they are creating a discussion and providing education to create change.
Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, who remains a chairman of the company’s board of directors after stepping down last year said he was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” about the arrests made. According to an article by CNN, Schultz believes that the training “is just the beginning of what we will do to transform the way we do business and educate our people.”
We can all use training, regardless of our skin color. We need to check our own racial biases. We need to have conversations to address situations like these. Without these uncomfortable conversations, we will be avoiding these topics for years to come while innocent people continue to pay the price.