Philadelphia mayor calls for probe of Starbucks policy after arrests

A screen grab of a video posted on Twitter shows police arresting two black men after Starbucks said they attempted to use a restroom inside the store and then refused to leave. Critics are calling the incident "racist."
A screen grab of a video posted on Twitter shows police arresting two black men after Starbucks said they attempted to use a restroom inside the store and then refused to leave. Critics are calling the incident "racist." Twitter

Starbucks issued an apology on Saturday after one of their employees called the police on two black men who were denied use of the bathroom at a Philadelphia cafe because they hadn't ordered anything.

In a now-viral video posted to social media Thursday, a group of six police officers are seen surrounding the men, who are then handcuffed and led out of the store. The officers told the pair three times to leave, but they refused, Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Saturday.

"This is ridiculous," a bystander is heard saying in the video. He told police the men were there to meet him. "What did they get called for? Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?"

The men were reportedly transported to a police station and released from custody at 1:30 a.m. — nine hours after the incident happened — after Starbucks told police it would not pursue trespassing charges against the pair, the Huffington Post reported. But critics on social media quickly condemned what they saw in the video, viewed as of Saturday evening more than 5 million times on Twitter alone, as racial bias in the cafe's strict punishment of a rarely enforced — if at all — bathroom policy.

Melissa DePino, a Philadelphia novelist, posted video of the incident on Twitter.

"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. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing," DePino wrote on Twitter.

In a matter of hours, the #BoycottStarbucks hashtag started trending on Twitter. DePino protested outside the Starbucks on Saturday afternoon, posting a photo of her standing with a sign that read, "Be black in this Starbucks = Get arrested."

In its short apology, the multi-national coffee giant said it was reviewing its policies to ensure "these types of situations never happen in any of our stores."

"We apologize to the two individuals and our customers and are disappointed this led to an arrest," Starbucks said in a statement released Saturday afternoon, two days after the incident. "We take these matters seriously and clearly have more work to do when it comes to how we handle incidents in our stores."

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Starbucks' apology was "not enough." He asked the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to examine the company's policies, "including the extend of, or need for, implicit bias training for its employees."

"I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that — at least based on what we know at this point — appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018," he said in a statement to the public. "For many, Starbucks is not just a place to buy a cup of coffee, but a place to meet up with friends or family members, or to get some work done. Like all retail establishments in our city, Starbucks should be a place where everyone is treated the same, no matter the color of their skin."

The incident happened around 4:40 p.m. and is now under internal investigation by the police department. The names of the men have not been released, and a call to their attorney, Lauren A. Wimmer, was not immediately returned Saturday.

Wimmer told BuzzFeed News the men visited the cafe to "discuss potential residential and commercial real estate opportunities in Philadelphia" with a friend of theirs.

A manager told the men to leave when they tried to use the bathroom. They said they were waiting on somebody, and she called the police, Wimmer said.

Commissioner Ross, who is black, defended the actions of his officers, who he said were simply responding to a "disturbance" and "trespassing." He added that the first officers to arrive phoned their superiors to help handle the situation.

"In short, these officers did absolutely nothing wrong," Ross said. "They followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do."

He has that his department was committed to "fair and unbiased policing," adding that "as an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias."

Surveillance video shows the frightening moments as a Fresno Starbucks customer fights a robber armed with a knife. The incident happened Thursday, July 20. The suspect, who was stabbed himself during the fight, got away but was later captured.