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Starbucks to close 8,000 stores for racial-bias education on May 29 after arrest of two black men

After two black men were arrested while waiting at a Philadelphia Starbucks on April 12, the company and the police are facing fierce criticism. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Gene J. Puskar/The Washington Post)

PHILADELPHIA —  Starbucks will close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for an afternoon next month to train employees as the company responds to criticism after two black men were arrested while waiting at one of the coffee chain’s Philadelphia stores last week.

The “racial-bias education” training is scheduled for May 29 for nearly 175,000 employees, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

The announcement follows days of protest and a personal apology by Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson to the men in a private meeting Monday, a company spokeswoman confirmed to The Washington Post. The spokeswoman, Jamie Riley, did not provide additional details.

“Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities,” Johnson said in the statement.

Before video of a Starbucks arrest, images of lunch counter sit-ins helped launch a movement

Starbucks said the curriculum will focus on how employees can recognize and address their own biases to prevent future discrimination.

Johnson, who rushed from Seattle to Philadelphia as the backlash erupted, also met with Philadelphia’s mayor and police commissioner.

The chief executive has publicly apologized for what he called “reprehensible” circumstances that led to the arrest of the two men at a store in Philadelphia’s Center City district Thursday.

“I will fix this,” Johnson said in a video message.

In an interview Monday on “Good Morning America” Johnson said that “what happened to those two gentlemen was wrong” and that the company was reviewing the actions of the store manager who had called police.

“My responsibility is to look not only to that individual but look more broadly at the circumstances that set that up just to ensure that never happens again,” Johnson said.

Starbucks said later that the manager who called police “is no longer at that store.”

The Starbucks at the corner of 18th and Spruce had closed temporarily because of demonstrations inside and outside but reopened Tuesday morning to little commotion. No protesters were outside, and the customers in line showed little interest in talking about what had happened there in recent days. It was business as usual inside the store, with its neat displays of chicken BLT protein boxes and sparkling mimosa gourmet gummies.

A day earlier, demonstrators had convened at the location. One person in the crowd hoisted a sign that read, “Is she fired or nah?” — a reference to the store manager who called police. Others chanted, “Anti-blackness anywhere is anti-blackness everywhere.”

On Tuesday, Philadelphia Police released the 911 call, as well as police dispatches and other transmission that provide a timeline of events.

At 4:37, a female employee at the Starbucks called the police to report “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” Officers arrived at the Starbucks 4:41, according to the tape. At 4:44, officers requested backup and a supervisor for “a group of males causing a disturbance” inside the Starbucks. Dispatch sent additional backup at 4:45.

At 5 p.m., the officers were en route to their headquarters with two arrests.

Two women said they were racially profiled at an Applebee’s restaurant. It closed days later.

At least two cellphone videos captured the tense moment when at least six Philadelphia police officers stood over two seated black men, asking them to leave. One officer said that the men were not complying and were being arrested for trespassing.

“Why would they be asked to leave?” Andrew Yaffe asked on a video. Yaffe runs a real estate development firm and wanted to discuss business investment opportunities with the two men. “Does anybody else think this is ridiculous?” he asked people nearby. “It’s absolute discrimination.”

The two unidentified men were taken out in handcuffs soon after. They were held for nearly nine hours before being 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.

One of the videos of the arrest rocketed across social media, with more than 10 million views by Tuesday afternoon.

Benjamin Waxman, a spokesman for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, said over the weekend that the office decided that there “wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge [the men] with a crime.”

Johnson said Monday that there are scenarios that warrant a call to police — including threats and other disturbances — but that in this case, “it was completely inappropriate to engage the police.”

The police were criticized for their handling of the situation. 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.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney met with Starbucks executives Monday and said they “were very contrite,” according to the Associated Press.

Kenney said in a statement that Starbucks “will cooperate fully with our probes of the matter, particularly the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations’ review of Starbucks’ policies. All parties agree that the outcome of this incident was extremely unfortunate and that’s why we are reviewing the incident seriously.”

A black teen missed the bus to school. When he knocked on a door for directions, a man shot at him.

He added: “This is not just a Starbucks issue. This is a societal issue. People can react differently to others based on skin color, and that is wrong. We have work to do, and we need to do so productively.”

Starbucks does not have a companywide policy on asking members of the public to leave, a company official said. The company leaves safety and customer service protocol decisions up to store managers, said a company official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe internal discussions. Managers may leave restroom doors unlocked or add key-code entries if they feel the store is more at risk of criminal behavior. A store in the same area of Philadelphia was hit with an armed robbery recently, the official said.

The Starbucks official acknowledged that the incident is at odds with a common practice at Starbucks. The stores are “community” hubs, the official said, where people often drop in to use the WiFi or chat with friends without necessarily buying anything.

Rosalind Brewer, the company’s chief operating officer, called the incident a “teachable moment for all of us,” in an interview with NPR Monday. She said that as an African American executive with a 23-year-old son, she found the cellphone videos taken of the Thursday afternoon arrest painful to watch.

“It would be easy for us to say that this was a one-employee situation, but I have to tell you, it’s time for us to, myself included, take personal responsibility here and do the best that we can to make sure we do everything we can,” Brewer said.

This post has been updated. Horton reported from Washington.

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How people in Philadelphia are reacting after two black men were arrested at Starbucks

Protesters demonstrate inside a Starbucks in the Center City area of Philadelphia, where two black men were arrested April 12 after an employee called police. Cellphone videos captured at least six officers standing over the men, asking them to leave and eventually arresting them for trespassing. (Mark Makela/Reuters)