Star­bucks CEO is­sues apol­ogy for ar­rests

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ron Todt and Jay Reeves

Star­bucks sells it­self as a com­mu­nity gath­er­ing spot as much as a cof­fee­house, a wel­com­ing place with com­fort­able chairs for lin­ger­ing, trendy mu­sic and Wi-Fi. That’s one rea­son the ar­rest of two black men who were sit­ting in a Star­bucks struck a nerve for so many: They were do­ing ex­actly what people do at most any of the chain’s 28,000 stores world­wide.

The CEO of Star­bucks Co., Kevin John­son, called the ar­rests a “rep­re­hen­si­ble out­come” and said he wants to per­son­ally apol­o­gize to the men, say­ing the com­pany “stands firmly against dis­crim­i­na­tion or racial pro­fil­ing.” But that didn’t stop pro­test­ers from gath­er­ing Sun­day out­side the store in down­town Philadel­phia where the ar­rests oc­curred.

As people or­dered cof­fee inside, the Rev. Jeffrey Jor­dan led a crowd of a cou­ple dozen in chants of “I am some­body, and I de­mand equal­ity now.”

“It is a shame that (in) the year 2018 we’re still putting up with this mess,” said Jor­dan. “This coun­try was built on the backs of black and brown people and now Star­bucks is go­ing to treat us like we’re sec­ond-class.”

In Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Gre­gory Wilkins usu­ally vis­its one of three neigh­bor­hood Star­bucks for about 45 min­utes be­fore work to read the pa­per with his cof­fee or smoke a cig­a­rette at the out­side ta­bles. Wilkins, who is black, said he’d con­sider go­ing else­where if some­thing like the in­ci­dent in Philadel­phia oc­curred again.

“If noth­ing is done about what hap­pened, then yeah,” Wilkins, 56, said as he went into a Star­bucks.

The ar­rests, which oc­curred Thurs­day, were cap­tured on video that quickly gained trac­tion on so­cial me­dia.

Video shows sev­eral po­lice talk­ing qui­etly with two black men seated at a ta­ble. Af­ter a few min­utes, of­fi­cers hand­cuff the men and lead them out­side as other cus­tomers say they weren’t do­ing any­thing wrong; Philadel­phia-area me­dia re­ported the two had been wait­ing for a friend.

Of­fi­cers went to the store af­ter Star­bucks em­ploy­ees called 911 to re­port the men were tres­pass­ing, said Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Richard Ross. He said of­fi­cers were told the men had come in and asked to use the re­stroom but were de­nied be­cause they hadn’t bought any­thing. He said they then re­fused to leave.

John­son’s state­ment didn’t ad­dress ex­actly what led to the po­lice call, but a Star­bucks spokes­woman said the store where the ar­rests oc­curred has a pol­icy that re­strooms are for pay­ing cus­tomers only. In the video, no Star­bucks items are vis­i­ble in front of ei­ther of the men.

Robert Pas­sikoff, the pres­i­dent of a New York­based con­sult­ing firm that re­searches brand loy­alty, said com­pa­nies like Star­bucks are in a tough spot as they at­tempt to op­er­ate both as both com­mu­nity cen­ters and places where people are ex­pected to make a pur­chase.

“Com­pa­nies have gone out of their way to es­tab­lish the kind of emo­tional bonds and prod­uct de­liv­ery that they think is go­ing to build en­gage­ment and loy­alty and, ul­ti­mately, prof­its,” said Pas­sikoff, of Brand Keys Inc. “But to­day the con­sumer de­cides what is right. They have be­come mag­nets for so­cial ex­pe­ri­ences, in the broad sense of ‘so­cial,’ but not in the sense that ‘Oh, I need to buy some­thing.’”

John­son said the com­pany’s prac­tices and train­ing led to a “bad out­come,” and the rea­son for the call that brought po­lice into the shop was in­cor­rect.

“Our store man­ager never in­tended for these men to be ar­rested and this should never have es­ca­lated as it did,” said his state­ment. John­son said videos of the ar­rest were “very hard to watch,” and the com­pany was in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

John­son said the com­pany would fur­ther train work­ers on when to call po­lice and host a com­pa­ny­wide meet­ing to “un­der­score our long-stand­ing com­mit­ment to treat­ing one another with re­spect and dig­nity.”

Po­lice haven’t re­leased the names of the men who were ar­rested. A spokesman for the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice said the two were re­leased “be­cause of lack of ev­i­dence” that a crime had been com­mit­ted, but de­clined fur­ther com­ment, cit­ing a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

At the protest, Wendy Mial vowed to never en­ter another Star­bucks. Mial, 53, said she was “dev­as­tated” by the ar­rests and urged the small crowd not to the “choose the wrong en­emy.”

“The en­emy, in some ways, is our­selves,” she said. “Look how few people are here to­day. Who’s not out­raged about this?”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pro­test­ers gather Sun­day out­side a Star­bucks in Philadel­phia where two black men were ar­rested Thurs­day af­ter Star­bucks em­ploy­ees called po­lice to say the men were tres­pass­ing. The ar­rest prompted ac­cu­sa­tions of racism on so­cial me­dia. Star­bucks CEO...

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