Starbucks CEO apologizes after arrest of 2 men

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson responded to public outcry over the arrest of two black men from a Philadelphia branch of the coffee shop, calling the incident "reprehensible."

Posted: Apr 17, 2018 11:26 AM
Updated: Apr 17, 2018 11:38 AM

As a black man who was kicked out of a coffee shop in 2015, I had some thoughts when I heard about the two black men being kicked out and arrested for loitering in a Starbucks in Philadelphia recently. For the record, I wasn't kicked out of a Starbucks. I was kicked out of The Elmwood Cafe, an independently owned and operated coffee shop in Berkeley, California. While the right (alt and otherwise) would have you believe that Berkeley is the liberal utopia, those of us who live out here know that's not true -- at least we hope this isn't what a liberal utopia is.

My story is in many ways the same as the two black men in Philadelphia. Days after it happened I wrote about it. I also told the story on "This American Life" and wrote about it in my book. But my story is also markedly different. No one called the cops on me, but I do remember being nervous that was a possibility. And in January 2015, when I was kicked out, the news was filled with stories of Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson cop named Darren Wilson, so what could have happened if the police had shown up was front and center on my mind. I can't imagine what those black men in Philadelphia went through, being locked up until 1:30 in the morning. I can, but I don't really want to.

Our stories are similar in a couple of ways. We both had white women step up to get involved. The white woman in their situation is Melissa DePino, who taped it on her phone and live tweeted the entire arrest. That is the only reason we are all talking about it right now. In my case I had a ringer, my wife. She was there when I was kicked out of The Elmwood Cafe. In fact, in a weird way it was her fault I was kicked out, because I was kicked out for talking to her. They thought I was trying to sell her something. I was showing her and her friends a new children's book I had just bought about Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple who is responsible for making interracial marriage legal throughout the country. And if that doesn't seem corny enough, it was also my birthday! "Happy Birthday! The Elmwood Cafe got you some racism!"

The other way in which my situation is similar to the black men in Philly is the playbook that Starbucks is running is eerily similar to the one The Elmwood Cafe ran:

1. Initial hastily thrown together, ham-fisted, and unsatisfying apology

2. "Responsible parties" getting fired

3. Initial apology is replaced with a better apology that promises change and a new day

I don't know if the next thing on Starbucks list is going to be the same as The Elmwood Cafe yet. There hasn't been enough time. To be absolutely clear, the next thing on The Elmwood Cafe's list was:

4. Wait for the media backlash to blow over and the return to business as usual while making but not measurably adhering to ANY OF THE CHANGES PROMISED.

After the better apology, my wife, Michael Pearce (the owner of The Elmwood Cafe), a cadre of activists, and I had a community forum on racism in Berkeley at a middle school. The owner promised to end implicit bias in his cafe, then in the stores on his block, then in the neighborhood, then in Berkeley, then I guess eventually in the entire the galaxy. For those not on the cutting edge of rebranding the worst of society's ills, "implicit bias" basically means racism where nobody dies or needs to go to the hospital. At the community forum, when Pearce announced his plans he added that he and I were doing this together. I immediately looked over at him like, "We are???" He put my reputation on that line. After the meeting I repeatedly followed up with him about "our plans." He quickly stopped returning my emails. The website he built, ImplicitBiasTraining.com, is currently just a white space, surrounded by yellow. If there is a better visual representation for white cowardice than whiteness engulfed in yellow, I don't know what it could be.

So we have yet to find out if Starbucks will just wait for this heat to blow over and go back to business as usual, but believe me, people of color (and woke white folk) won't be surprised if that is what they do. That's why people were outside the Philly Starbucks this weekend. That's why the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks is trending. People know that if you don't actively hold companies accountable for their actions, then you believe they will just change things on their own. Remember, it was not that long ago that Starbucks was trying to end racism by writing on their cups. What did they do after that failed? They just went back to business as usual. But this time we can't let that happen. Because these gentlemen's story isn't that unique and it isn't just limited to coffee shops. Every day black people find themselves in simple situations where suddenly out of nowhere, we are treated like criminals. This Starbucks situation is not that far removed from Brennan Walker, the black teenager who was shot at by a man just for asking for directions.

That's why I am against just firing the employees who are deemed the guilty parties. That just makes the employees the scapegoats for America's entire history of institutionalized and structural racism. This isn't just about a couple of rogue baristas ignoring the employee manual. I'm sure the Starbucks manual says, "DON'T BE RACIST/SEXIST/ABLEIST/TRANSPHOBIC/HOMOPHOBIC/JERKHOLE-IC!" all over it. It has to. Starbucks is a major corporation. But I'm guessing the manual doesn't tell its employees how not to be racist/sexist/ableist/transphobic/homophobic/jerkhole-ic. This is key. I remember how the owner of The Elmwood Cafe told me that he didn't train his employees to be racist. But he didn't have to train be to be racist for them to act in racist ways. You have to un-train people. Racism is baked into America's cake. It is the flour, the white, bleached flour.

So if Starbucks wants to truly make a difference, then they need to not just commit to ending discrimination in their coffee shops, they need to commit to being advocates for ending discrimination in America. If they can get us all to pay five bucks for coffee, this should be no big deal. Or they can just be like The Elmwood Cafe in Berkeley and let it blow over and get back to business as usual. My family and I haven't been back to The Elmwood Cafe since. I fell in love with small double shot, no whip, mochas at Starbucks, but if they don't make real lasting changes, I can get them many, many, many other places.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 98447

Reported Deaths: 2072
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin27557932
Ramsey11167323
Dakota7692126
Anoka6281137
Stearns409424
Washington391855
Scott264833
Olmsted253528
Nobles197916
Blue Earth17366
St. Louis172542
Wright17017
Carver14467
Clay142441
Rice13478
Mower13446
Sherburne117714
Kandiyohi10563
Winona92018
Lyon7334
Waseca7228
Benton5633
Steele5552
Crow Wing55418
Nicollet54717
Freeborn5464
Watonwan5354
Chisago5171
Todd5072
McLeod5022
Le Sueur4764
Otter Tail4694
Beltrami4605
Martin44611
Goodhue3899
Pine3550
Douglas3522
Itasca35215
Polk3274
Isanti3191
Becker2842
Carlton2791
Morrison2702
Dodge2610
Pipestone23810
Chippewa2321
Cottonwood2290
Meeker2132
Wabasha2060
Sibley2023
Yellow Medicine1982
Brown1962
Cass1864
Rock1810
Redwood1783
Murray1742
Mille Lacs1693
Renville1618
Jackson1531
Unassigned15352
Faribault1470
Swift1441
Fillmore1330
Houston1300
Kanabec1288
Roseau1260
Koochiching1233
Hubbard1221
Pennington1201
Lincoln1180
Stevens1071
Pope1000
Aitkin841
Big Stone830
Wadena730
Wilkin713
Lac qui Parle681
Grant634
Lake600
Norman560
Marshall531
Mahnomen491
Red Lake451
Traverse340
Clearwater310
Lake of the Woods241
Kittson120
Cook70

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 87828

Reported Deaths: 1332
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk16113264
Woodbury559768
Johnson517927
Black Hawk454192
Linn4163114
Story348517
Dubuque340242
Scott309528
Dallas282938
Pottawattamie220139
Buena Vista200312
Marshall179434
Sioux17073
Wapello134157
Webster131714
Plymouth118221
Clinton113921
Muscatine112855
Crawford11086
Cerro Gordo106421
Warren9696
Jasper87034
Des Moines8068
Henry7734
Marion7728
Tama75332
Carroll6955
Lee6527
Wright5971
Dickinson5426
Boone5268
Bremer5067
Washington48511
Delaware4413
Louisa43415
Mahaska42720
Lyon3754
Jackson3583
Floyd3573
Franklin35218
Clay3434
Winneshiek3408
Benton3381
Hamilton3343
Winnebago32313
Hardin3111
Poweshiek3118
Buchanan2921
Jones2893
Kossuth2860
Butler2792
Emmet27510
Chickasaw2701
Shelby2701
Clarke2693
Clayton2683
Sac2670
Allamakee2656
Guthrie2649
Harrison2593
Cherokee2572
Cedar2531
Fayette2382
Madison2342
Grundy2294
Iowa2221
Palo Alto2080
Hancock1992
Mitchell1970
Humboldt1943
Howard1927
Mills1911
Page1910
Calhoun1883
Osceola1770
Cass1762
Pocahontas1662
Monona1621
Monroe16211
Lucas1566
Appanoose1443
Union1423
Jefferson1401
Taylor1341
Davis1284
Ida1281
Fremont1220
Keokuk1191
Van Buren1181
Worth1090
Greene1050
Montgomery995
Audubon891
Wayne882
Adair731
Decatur670
Ringgold532
Adams330
Unassigned140
Rochester
Broken Clouds
51° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 51°
Mason City
Few Clouds
54° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 54°
Albert Lea
Scattered Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 55°
Austin
Scattered Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 55°
Charles City
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 55°
Winds pick up for Wednesday
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events