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Arrest Of 2 Black Men At Starbucks Sparks Protests

Outrage grows over the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks. The CEO apologizes but the video has gone viral.

On Point guest host  Melissa Block talked with  Ernest Owens, columnist and LGBTQ Editor at Philadelphia Magazine;  DeRay Mckesson, organizer and activist, co-founder of Campaign Zero, and host of the podcast Pod Save the People;  Rochelle Riley, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, author of The Burden: African Americans And The Enduring Impact Of Slavery; and Kimberly Adams, anchor and reporter with KYW Newsradio. The highlights below have been lightly edited for clarity.

(Note: after this segment aired, Starbucks announced that it would close more than 8,000 of its U.S. stores on May 29 to conduct racial-bias training for its employees.)


On how the events transpired: 

Adams: “[After the arrests] immediately, there were some protests. Facebook is what lit up after that. It went viral. As a result of that, that’s when police commissioner Richard Ross responded, and he stood by the officers, stood by what happened. He said, this is the Starbucks policy that you must pay if you’re going to ask to use the bathroom… and that sparked even more outrage… On Sunday, there was a movement with protesters of all ages, races, and Black Lives Matter. It was a calm protest —outraged, obviously. There was a lot of emotion, but it was calm. And then the crowd started growing.”

On black trauma porn:

Owens: “The term has been used over the past several years by many academics, scholars, and commentators on basically the daily ongoing filming of black people being tortured or harassed or assaulted or killed in the hands of law enforcement. And we have continually seen these videos, whether it’s Eric Garner, whether it was Stephon Clark, whether it is now this incident at Starbucks where we’re often seeing black people experiencing trauma in a way that is very visceral, and in many ways can be numbing for especially people of color who often times have to go through the process of seeing these daily onslaughts happening.”

Block: “I’m curious about that, because couldn’t you also say that though, that without those videos, these incidents — no one would know about them? They would not be made public and the outrage and potentially the change that happens would never happen.”

Owens: “I’m cynical about that. I think that it’s really sad that we have to continue to show these types of traumatic videos without people believing black people. It’s really about believing people. I think it’s inherently racist — the assertion that people make — when they believe that in order for us to believe the experiences that black people face, even though there [are] decades and centuries of history that can back these things up — we have to see it.”

On police, discrimination, and Starbucks leadership:

Mckesson: “This is about two black men having the police called on them literally only because they were black, not because of anything else. I think that apology number two is a recognition on Starbucks’ behalf, that there’s a culture piece. So hopefully this training does better work. There is a question though: who are you hiring and what are those values and beliefs that people are bringing into the workplace?”

“The police response every single time is: ‘we were just following policy, the law is on our side.’ That actually is true right now, and that in and of itself is the problem.”

On “performative activism”:

Owens: “We see this consistent complicity, where it’s that instant gratification, they want the instant reaction… mostly white people who often times do performative activism, they’ll make a hashtag, they’ll make a post. But then they will continue on with their day, and continue to do work that goes against the larger message.”

On the larger questions raised by recent events:

Owens: “It seems like what we’re noticing is that white people in these scenarios really take advantage of the most excessive uses of force — whether it’s the gun or law authority — to respond to the most innocent actions of black people. And that’s what the argument’s about, that we can’t get our humanity.”

Block: “It does seem to me that one common denominator here is the real question: ‘do you belong here?’ Is that what underpins what we’re seeing here?”

Riley: “That is  the question. In my book, ‘The Burden,’ we write extensively about how we have spent as African Americans in this country more than a century and a half seeking permission to be treated equally. To [be] accepted as first-class citizens. To experience humanity and freedom. And unfortunately, every single instance where you have someone who either wants to treat us like animals or treats us with fear — it’s always, as Ernest said, an overreaction.


Ernest Owens,Columnist and LGBTQ Editor at Philadelphia Magazine. ( @MrErnestOwens)

DeRay Mckesson, Organizer and activist, co-founder of Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence, and host of the podcast Pod Save the People. ( @deray)

Rochelle Riley, Columnist for the Detroit Free Press, author of The Burden: African Americans And The Enduring Impact Of Slavery. ( @rochelleriley)

Kimberly Adams, Anchor and reporter with KYW Newsradio.

From The Reading List: 

Philadelphia Magazine:  If You’re Not Enraged Enough to Act, the Starbucks Arrest Video Is Just Black Trauma Porn — “And this is where the true tragedy lies: For all of the public outrage, those in power have yet to do a damn thing to move the needle on addressing the issues that cause this ceaseless racial profiling. What happened at Starbucks is more than just two innocent Black men being arrested, but the inevitable outcome of an unchecked system of racial bias on the part of local law enforcement.”

Detroit Free Press:  Riley: Man who shot at black kid seeking directions hurt all of us — “America was injured. Because here, in our backyard, is the latest example of people being empowered to commit hate crimes in new age of rage. This happened on the same day that six white police officers in Philadelphia, wearing helmets, arrested two black men for, uh, doing nothing in a Starbucks.”

The Boston Globe: Videos show Cambridge officer striking black Harvard student — “Cambridge’s mayor called a video of a police officer repeatedly striking a black Harvard University student while he was pinned to the ground by fellow officers ‘disturbing’ and promised that the findings of an internal probe would be made public. ‘Cambridge affirms that Black Lives Matter, but it must be true in practice as well,’ Mayor Marc C. McGovern said in a statement Sunday morning.”

Protesters at a Philadelphia Starbucks – where two African-American men were arrested for trespassing last week. They were sitting at a table and hadn’t ordered anything. A manager called police. Video of officers arresting the men went viral. Now there’s a hashtag: “Starbucks While Black.” And a boycott.

This hour,  On Point: another flashpoint in race relations.

— Melissa Block

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


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