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Starbucks CEO apologizes after arrest of 2 black men stirs online furor

Protesters on Sunday targeted the Starbucks in Philadelphia where two black men were taken into custody by police. Starbucks said the basis for the call to police was wrong.Mark Makela/Getty Images

NEW YORK — Kevin R. Johnson, chief executive of Starbucks, has said he hopes to meet the two black men who were arrested in one of the company’s Philadelphia coffee shops and offer them a “face-to-face apology.”

He also pledged to further investigate and to “make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.”

The two men walked into a Starbucks in Philadelphia Thursday and sat down. Officials said they had asked to use the restroom but because they had not bought anything, an employee refused the request.

They were eventually asked to leave. When they declined, an employee called police.


Some of what happened next was recorded in a video that has been viewed more than 8 million times on Twitter and was described by Starbucks’ CEO as “very hard to watch.”

Details of the episode, which authorities provided Saturday, ignited widespread criticism on social media, incited anger among public officials, and prompted investigations.

The video shows the men surrounded by several officers wearing bicycle helmets in the Center City Starbucks. When one officer asks another man whether he is “with these gentlemen,” the man said he was and called the episode ridiculous. “What did they get called for?” asked the man, Andrew Yaffe, who is white, referring to police. “Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”

Moments later, officers escorted one of the black men out of the Starbucks in handcuffs. The other soon followed.

The men, who have not been identified, were arrested on suspicion of trespassing. But Starbucks did not want to press charges and the men were later released, Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. said.

The prosecutor’s office declined to charge the men because of “a lack of evidence that a crime was committed,” Benjamin Waxman, a spokesman for the office, said.


The company apologized on Twitter Saturday afternoon. Later that day, while the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks was trending on Twitter, Johnson released a statement in which he called the situation a “reprehensible outcome.”

“Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling,” he said. “Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome — the basis for the call to the Philadelphia Police Department was wrong. Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did.”

A company spokesman would not say whether any employees would face discipline.

A longer video shows police talking with the men for at least four minutes before Yaffe arrives. He informs police the men are “not trespassing” but are “meeting me here.”

“That’s absolutely discrimination,” Yaffe said in the video. A lawyer for the men did not respond to messages seeking comment late Saturday. Yaffe declined to comment.

In his statement, Ross defended his officers, noting they had asked the men to leave three times because employees had said they were trespassing. The men refused, he said.

“These officers had legal standing to make this arrest,” Ross said. “These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They 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.

“I will say that as an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias,” he continued. “We are committed to fair and unbiased policing, and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”


Jim Kenney, mayor of Philadelphia, blamed Starbucks, saying the episode “appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.”

“Starbucks has issued an apology, but that is not enough,” he said in a statement. He said he asked the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to examine the company’s policies and procedures, ‘‘including the extent of, or need for, implicit bias training for its employees.’’

Starbucks said such a review was already underway.

“I know our store managers and partners work hard to exceed our customers’ expectations every day — which makes this very poor reflection on our company all the more painful,” Johnson said in his statement.

“You can and should expect more from us,’’ he said. “We will learn from this and be better.”

Starbucks is only the latest US food chain to come under scrutiny because of the way black people were treated at one of its locations.

Some companies have been accused of systemic racism; others have faced complaints about isolated occurrences.

Allegations of discrimination against minorities go back decades. Denny's, with more than 1,700 restaurants, agreed to pay more than $54 million in a landmark settlement of racial discrimination claims with the Justice Department in 1994.

Cracker Barrel agreed to pay almost $9 million in 2004 to settle allegations it mistreated black customers and discriminated against black workers.

IHOP apologized last month after a waitress asked black teenagers to pay upfront for a meal in Auburn, Maine.


Applebee’s apologized, fired workers, and closed a restaurant in Independence, Mo., where two black women said they were falsely accused of not paying for meals in February.