A second allegation of racial bias at Starbucks has surfaced in the days since two black men were arrested while waiting at one of the coffee chain’s Philadelphia stores.
A video of the incident, taken at a Torrance, Calif., store and posted in January, shows a black man claiming he was denied access to a bathroom while a white man was given the entry code. Neither of the men was a paying customer.
The video emerged amid outrage over the Philadelphia arrests, which protesters said exemplified the racial disparities that still exist in this country. The arrests, which occurred last week, led Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to personally apologize to the men involved and announce the closure of more than 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29, so that nearly 175,000 employees could receive “racial-bias education” training.
In the California incident, the black man recording the video — whom KABC-TV identified as 26-year-old Brandon Ward — asks a white customer who used the bathroom if he had any trouble obtaining the entry code. Ward wasn’t able to himself.
“Have you purchased anything in here today?” Ward asks the customer.
“No, but I was just about to,” the customer said.
“But before you made a purchase they let you use the restroom?” Ward asks.
“I just asked for the code,” the customer said.
“You asked for the code and they gave it to you, right?” Ward asks. “Before you made the purchase?”
That’s right, the customer indicated. Ward, realizing the discrepancy, went to the coffee bar to address it with a woman who identified herself as the store manager. She told him to stop recording.
“This is a private business,” she told Ward. Ward kept recording.
“You are actually not allowed to be in here anymore. You need to leave,” she told Ward.
“Is it my skin color?” Ward asked her. “Is it my skin color?”
The video, which Ward posted to his Facebook page two days after the Philadelphia incident, had nearly 5,500 views by Tuesday evening. Activist Shaun King posted it to Twitter, where it was retweeted nearly 50,000 times.
In a statement to The Washington Post, a Starbucks spokeswoman said the company takes the video of the Torrance incident “and the commentary surrounding it” seriously.
“[We] are working closely with the team to learn from our mistakes,” she said. “We are fully investigating our store practices and guidelines across the company. In addition to our own review we will work with outside experts and community leaders to understand and adopt best practices, including unconscious bias training.”
Starbucks said the training curriculum planned for its employees next month will be developed with input from national and local experts on confronting racial bias. They include Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr.; Heather McGhee, president of policy center Demos, and Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League.
Ward acknowledged the company’s apologies, but said they are useless until the company changes its behavior.
“If you have a policy, you should abide by those guidelines for everyone,” he told KABC-TV. “You can’t sit here and segregate things, so you might as well put on the store with your policy, ‘Whites Only,’ at the end.”
On Thursday, at about 4:37 p.m. at a Philadelphia Starbucks at the corner of 18th and Spruce streets, a female employee called police to report “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” according to the 911 call, which was released Tuesday. Officers arrived at the Starbucks about 4:41, according to the tape, and at 4:44, officers requested backup and a supervisor for “a group of males causing a disturbance.”
By 5 p.m., the officers were headed to their headquarters with two arrests.
The tense arrests were captured on at least two cellphone videos, which showed at least six Philadelphia police officers standing over two seated black men, asking them to leave. One officer said that the men were not complying and were being arrested for trespassing, according to The Post’s Rachel Siegel and Alex Horton. One of the videos had more than 10 million views by Tuesday afternoon.
The men were held for nine hours before they were released, said criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer, who represented the men over the weekend when they potentially faced charges. No charges were filed, authorities said.
The Starbucks store was temporarily closed because of protests outside but reopened Tuesday morning.
The police were criticized for their handling of the situation. As Siegel and Horton reported:
On Monday, the department referred to the police commissioner’s Facebook Live video from Saturday. Commissioner Richard Ross said in the video that one or both of the men asked to use the restroom but had not purchased anything. An employee said Starbucks company policy was to refuse the use of the restrooms to non-customers and asked the men to leave, according to Ross. The employee called the police when they refused.
“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,” Ross said in the video. “And instead, they got the opposite back.” Ross said police arrested the men after they refused three requests to leave.
Ross, who is black, said he was aware of issues of implicit bias — unconscious discrimination based on race — but did not say whether he believed it applied in this case. He said the incident underscores the need for more body-worn cameras to present different perspectives of police responses. The officers were not wearing cameras, he said.