Philly mayor: Starbucks arrests ‘exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018’

Updated: 5:07 p.m.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has asked the city’s Commission on Human Relations to review Starbucks’ policies and procedures following the controversial arrests of two black men at a Center City location.

“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,” Kenney said in a statement Saturday evening. “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 incident, which was captured on a Twitter video, has sparked outrage against Starbucks and the Philadelphia Police Department on social media, with many Twitter users alleging that the arrests were racially motivated.

In the video posted by @MelissaDePino at 5:12 p.m. Thursday, police can be seen arresting two black men at a Starbucks located at 18th and Spruce streets near Rittenhouse Square.

Another man in the video, who is white, can be seen and heard speaking to one of the officers, saying, “This is ridiculous. What did they get called for, because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”

“They didn’t do anything, I saw the entire thing,” another person out of view responds.

Then, the two men can be seen calmly walking out of the Starbucks, escorted by police, arms handcuffed behind their backs.

“The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything,” @MelissaDePino said in the Twitter post that contained the video. “They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing.”

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said in a video posted to the department’s Facebook page Saturday afternoon that the police officers involved “did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Starbucks has issued an apology to the men, saying the company is “disappointed this led to an arrest,” and is reviewing the incident and its policies.

Kenney said the company’s apology is “not enough.”

“I have asked the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to examine the firm’s policies and procedures, including the extent of, or need for, implicit bias training for its employees,” the mayor said. “We are reaching out to Starbucks to begin a discussion about this.”

In a tweet late Friday night, the PPD said it had launched an internal investigation into the matter.

Ross said around 4:40 p.m. on Thursday, two Starbucks employees called 911 “for a disturbance and trespassing.” The employees called police when the two men refused to leave after they were told they could not use the bathroom without making a purchase, per Starbucks company policy, Ross said.

When the officers arrived, Ross said they “politely” asked the men to leave three times, but they still refused. The officers placed the men under arrest and took them to the nearby police district, he said.

“The officers, after processing paperwork, discovered that Starbucks no longer was interested in prosecuting,” Ross said. “And so at that point, those males were released from custody.”

The department has not released the names of the two men.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said earlier Saturday it had declined to bring charges against both men due to a lack of evidence.

“It is important for me to say that, in short, these officers did absolutely nothing wrong,” Ross said. “They followed policy. They did what they were supposed to do. They were professional in all of their dealings with these gentleman and instead they got the opposite back.

“As an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias,” he added. “We are committed to fair and unbiased policing and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”

Ross said the department will continue to examine the incident, which he said was evidence of the need to equip more officers with body-worn cameras. Currently about 700 Philadelphia police officers have body-worn cameras, not including those involved in the incident at Starbucks, Ross said.

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