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Arrest of black men at Philadelphia Starbucks was 'reprehensible,' CEO says

Arrest of black men at Philadelphia Starbucks was 'reprehensible,' CEO says

Chief executive Kevin R. Johnson is now calling for 'unconscious bias' training
Arrest of black men at Philadelphia Starbucks was 'reprehensible,' CEO says
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson during a Bloomberg Television interview at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle on Oct. 10, 2017.
Photographer: Mike Kane/Bloomberg

As protests continued at a Philadelphia Starbucks on Monday, Kevin R. Johnson, chief executive of the company, said it was “reprehensible” that two black men were ejected from the store last week and said he wanted to meet with them personally and apologize.

Johnson, who spoke on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” also said that the company was reviewing guidelines, which can differ among the chain’s 28,000 stores worldwide, and was investing in training, including in unconscious bias.

What happened to the men was “wrong, and for that I personally apologize to the two men that visited our store,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to understand what happened and what led to that, and ensure that we fix it.”

The company instructs employees to call police in certain situations, such as those involving “threats or disturbance.”

“In this case, none of that occurred,” Johnson said. “It was completely inappropriate to engage the police.”

Johnson made the remarks as protesters returned to the store, a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia. Footage posted on social media showed protesters holding placards and chanting slogans against the company and the police action.

Last Thursday, the two men asked to use the restroom in the coffee shop but an employee refused the request because they had not bought anything, officials said. They sat down, and 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 nearly 10 million times on Twitter and was described by Johnson as “very hard to watch.” Police officers surrounded the men and escorted one of them 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, Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. of the Philadelphia Police Department said in a recorded statement Saturday.

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

A longer video of the episode shows police talking with the men for at least four minutes before a white man, Andrew Yaffe, joins them and informs police that the people they were about to take into custody were “not trespassing” and were meeting him there.

Johnson, on Monday, did not directly reply to a question about whether the employee who contacted police would face disciplinary action, adding that it was his responsibility as chief executive to look “broadly” at what had happened.

The company apologized 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.” He also said at that time that he hoped to meet the men in person and to offer a “face-to-face apology.”

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

“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.”

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