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Starbucks, Police And Mayor Respond To Controversial Arrest Of 2 Black Men In Philly

Starbucks issued an apology on Twitter after Starbucks employees called the police on two black men who were allegedly trespassing in a Philadelphia store.
Starbucks issued an apology on Twitter after Starbucks employees called the police on two black men who were allegedly trespassing in a Philadelphia store.

Updated at 1:56 p.m. ET

A video that's now amassed almost 7 million views on Twitter depicts police officers handcuffing two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks.

Onlookers in the background are incredulous.

"What did they do?" one man asks.

"They didn't do anything," a woman responds. "I saw the entire thing."

In a video statement streamed on Facebook Live from the Philadelphia Police Department's page, Commissioner Richard Ross confirmed that on Thursday afternoon at 4:40 p.m., Philadelphia police received a 911 call from the Starbucks at 18 th and Spruce Streets alleging disturbance and trespassing.

When police arrived, two Starbucks employees told them two men had asked to use the restroom but were told they couldn't because they hadn't purchased anything. The men allegedly refused to leave after being asked by Starbucks employees. Ross also said the two men refused to leave after being asked three times by police officers.

So, Ross says, officers arrested the men. The attorney for the two men, Lauren Wimmer, told the Philadelphia Inquirershe received word that the two were being released from custody at 12:30 a.m. Friday, nearly eight hours after the initial 911 call. Ross confirmed that the officers released the men from custody after they discovered Starbucks was not planning to prosecute them.

In his statement, Ross said he believed the officers "did absolutely nothing wrong." He continued:

"[The police officers] followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen and instead, they got the opposite back. I will say that as an African American man, I am very aware of implicit bias. We are committed to fair and unbiased policing and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department."

Ross said all commanders in his department receive implicit bias training, and all new recruits are sent to both the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. "We want them to know about the atrocities that were, in fact, committed by policing around the world," he says.

A police spokesman told the Inquirer that the Philadelphia Police Department's internal affairs unit is looking into the incident.

In a statement released Saturday, Philadelphia's mayor Jim Kenney criticized Starbucks for its role in the arrests:

"I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that — at least based on what we know at this point — appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018. For many, Starbucks is not just a place to buy a cup of coffee, but a place to meet up with friends or family members, or to get some work done. Like all retail establishments in our city, Starbucks should be a place where everyone is treated the same, no matter the color of their skin."

The mayor's statement says Starbucks' apology, which the company issued on its Twitter account earlier Saturday, was not enough. Kenney also says he has asked the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to look into whether additional implicit bias training should be required of Starbucks employees, and his office has reached out to Starbucks directly to discuss the matter.

Mayor Kenney's statement referenced ongoing discussions about criminal justice, policing and incarceration in Philadelphia:

"Commissioner Ross and his team have promised a review of their policies moving forward with regards to response to complaints like this. I believe a thorough review is fully warranted given the unfortunate outcome of this event, particularly at a time when our criminal justice reform efforts are focused on avoiding needless incarcerations."

The reforms Kenney alludes to have a lot to do with the city's new progressive District Attorney Lawrence Krasner. WHYY's Bobby Allyn recently reported on the change Krasner is pushing for in Philadelphia:

Krasner is a former civil rights lawyer who rode into office on a platform of radically revamping the city's district attorney's office by opposing the death penalty, stepping away from cash bail and seeking shorter prison sentences for offenders.

On Sunday, one day after Kenney criticized Starbucks' Twitter apology, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson released a statement of his own, saying that he will be soon joining other executives already in Philadelphia to speak with those involved in the incident. "I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology," his statement reads.

The executive added that the company has begun an investigation into its practices, and will "further train" its staff to "better know when police assistance is warranted."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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