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After arrests, Starbucks is talking about race

The Seattle Times — By Benjamin Romano The Seattle Times

April 16-- Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson was in Philadelphia Monday hoping to meet with two black men who were arrested after a store manager reported they were trespassing in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week, sending a company that prioritizes social activism, including about issues of race, into crisis mode.

The manager had reportedly asked the two men to leave the store because they hadn't yet ordered anything. They were waiting for a third person, a white man, who later arrived as they were being arrested by Philadelphia Police.

Videos of the arrests garnered widespread attention over the weekend and the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks trended on Twitter.

In 2015, the company launched a campaign to spark discussions about racism by having baristas write the words "Race Together" on cups, but shut it down after a week after widespread derision.

"This is not who we are, and it's not who we're going to be," Johnson said of the Philadelphia arrests in a video posted Sunday. "We are going to learn from this and we will be better for it."

He was in Philadelphia on Monday as protestors for a second day filled the store where the arrests occurred late Thursday, holding signs and chanting slogans including, "A whole lot of racism, a whole lot of crap, Starbucks coffee is anti-black," and calling for the store manager to be fired. The store was closed after the protests Monday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The two men, who were released due to a lack of evidence of a crime, had agreed to meet with Johnson, a company spokesman said. Details of the meeting had not been released.

The store manager involved has left Starbucks in what a company spokeswoman first described as a "mutual" decision. She later clarified that the manager left the store "while there is an internal review pending," according to The Inquirer, though it is not clear whether the manager is still with the company. Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

In the video statement and interviews Monday, Johnson pointed to ambiguous corporate policies and "local practices" for when store employees should call police.

"Now certainly there are some situations where a call to the police is justified – situations where there's violence or threats or disruption. In this case, none of that existed," Johnson said in the video statement. "These two gentleman did not deserve what happened. And we are accountable, I am accountable."

He said he will be examining changes to policies and practices, and "additional store manager training, including training around unconscious bias."

The arrests have prompted people to share other examples of what they describe as inequitable treatment of Starbucks customers, including a video showing a black man being denied use of a bathroom because he had not yet made a purchase, even after a white man was granted access under similar circumstances.

Officials in Philadelphia said police officers were told the men had asked to use the store's restroom but were denied because they hadn't bought anything and they refused to leave.

Video shows several officers talking quietly with two black men seated at a table, their backs against a brick wall, while jazz plays over the coffee shop's speakers. After a few minutes, officers handcuff the men and lead them outside without a struggle as other customers say they weren't doing anything wrong. A white man identified as real estate developer Andrew Yaffe arrives and tells the officers the two men were waiting for him. An officer says the men were not complying and were being arrested for trespassing.

"Why would they be asked to leave?" Yaffe says. "Does anybody else think this is ridiculous? It's absolute discrimination."

A woman can be heard in the video saying "they didn't do anything, I saw the entire thing."

Melissa DePino, a novelist whose tweet and video of the arrest had garnered more than 10 million views, wrote, "All the other white ppl are wondering why it's never happened to us when we do the same thing."

In 2015, Starbucks, fulfilling then-CEO Howard Schultz' vision of a company that transcends the typical purpose of profit-making to take on broader societal issues, attempted to launch a national conversation about racism with its "Race Together" campaign. After the messages written on cups attracted widespread criticism as a ham-handed attempt to address a complex issue, the company abandoned them after only a week, claiming that that had been the plan all along.

Other efforts launched around that time continue, including a push to hire some 10,000 young people who don't have jobs and aren't in school. Last year Starbucks said its "Opportunity Youth" program would aim to hire 100,000 people through 2020, and had hired more than 50,000 people as of March.

It opened a store in White Center last summer specifically designed to help employees in this program.

The company has also been working to diversify its own ranks. The company says 43 percent of its U.S. employees and 19 percent of its top leaders are minorities.

Starbucks lists among its diversity "aspirations" inclusion training and tools for human resources managers, diversity education for retail partners, and "leader accountability for diversity and inclusion outcomes."

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.


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