Starbucks Is Apologizing For That Alleged Racial Profiling Incident In Philadelphia

by Collette Reitz
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Starbucks news you're used to hearing usually revolves around the latest drink the coffee chain is serving up, but last week's big news about the company didn't revolve around the newest frappuccino flavor. Instead, two black men were arrested inside of a Philadelphia Starbucks on Thursday, April 12, after an employee called the police reportedly because the men hadn't ordered anything as they waited for a friend, and news of the alleged racial profiling was shared all over the internet. The company has finally addressed the incident, and Starbucks' response to the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia location sends a message that has people hopeful for change.

The statement from Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO, about the incident acknowledges the "reprehensible outcome" of last week's incident and promises that the coffee chain is taking action, after offering an apology to the two men arrested. The Thursday arrests in the Philadelphia Starbucks store were recorded by customers on the scene, and a video posted on Twitter by author Melissa DePino shows footage of the arrests. DePino wrote in her tweet, "The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing." As of Sunday, April 15, the video has been viewed over 9 million times.

The Washington Post reported that according to the police, a store manager asked the two men to leave after they tried to use the bathroom without making any purchases, and then the manager called 911 for help. The paper also reported the two men were released eight hours following their arrests, because "the district attorney found no evidence of a crime," and the two men's attorney, Lauren Wimmer, also told the paper "the Starbucks manager was white." Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross defended the officers involved in a Facebook Live statement, saying that "they did a service that they were called to do."

The public outcry over the video and reports of alleged racial profiling were swift. Starbucks issued an initial apology on their Twitter account on Saturday, April 14, and then Starbucks tweeted a link to Johnson's full statement on Saturday evening.

In the statement, Johnson expressed his "deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested" as he set out to "convey three things" to Starbucks customers and partners.

The first message Johnson conveyed in the statement was his apology and his desire to apologize "face-to-face" to the two men who were arrested. He also shared that Starbucks will "investigate the pertinent facts" and make the changes needed to prevent a similar instance in the future. Johnson relayed the news that, in the wake of the incident, Starbucks is conducting an internal investigation of company practices as well as joining forces with outside experts to "adopt best practices."

Johnson expressed his disappointment with the actions in the video, calling it "hard to watch" and "not representative of our Starbucks Mission and Values." He acknowledged the basis for the phone call to the police (which was allegedly two black men waiting for a friend to arrive without ordering, according to the account that the men's lawyer, Wimmer, gave toThe Washington Post) was wrong — and he added the Philadelphia Starbucks manager never meant for these men to be arrested.

Finally, the third thing Johnson communicated in his statement was a reassurance that "Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling." He explained that Starbucks plans to improve training so employees understand "when police assistance is warranted," and called the incident a "very poor reflection on our company." He closed the letter expressing hope for better customer relations in the future as he wrote, "We will learn from this and be better."

After Johnson's strong feelings about the alleged wrongdoing in the Philadelphia store, people are looking forward to positive changes.

While it's clear Johnson appears extremely disappointed by the incident and believes Starbucks' current "practices and training led to a bad outcome," some people are pointing out that only time will tell how effective this response will be when it comes to turning words into action (and real change).

Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "Does that entail individual change + systemic change? How can we translate the learnings into change?"

Another Twitter use shared, "I hear this ... but, please consider that your trainings & culture must be explicitly anti-racist. You operate within an America not safe and welcoming for everyone."

So, while people are pleased Johnson's response to the alleged racial profiling arrests in the Philadelphia Starbucks store appears to show real concern and a willingness to change, there is also a lingering wait-and-see sentiment. But at the very least, we can acknowledge that it's a good start.