In a video that has now gone wildly viral and been viewed over 4M times on YouTube, two young African American men — Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson — are handcuffed and escorted out of a downtown Philadelphia Starbucks after the manager on duty called the police on them. The April 12 incident has inadvertently caused an uproar that has left the company in a PR nightmare and scrambling on how to save face. While in any other situation offering someone a tall mocha latte would be seen as a nice peace offering, unfortunately, this incident cannot rely on the frothy goodness the chain is internationally known for.
Since the video went viral, Starbucks’ CEO Kevin Johnson has attempted to publicly condemn the actions of the manager on duty as “wrong and reprehensible.” Johnson has gone on to say in many media appearances, “Our practices and training led to a bad outcome…the basis for the call to the Philadelphia police department was wrong.” As the CEO has met with the two young men at the center of this controversy, this incident does have one positive outcome: open dialogue and discussion.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who at first upheld his officers’ behavior, has now apologized to Nelson and Robinson, admitting he “failed miserably” at how he addressed the incident last week when he said the arresting officers “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
“I should have said the officers acted within the scope of the law and not that they didn’t do anything wrong,” Ross said during a press conference on Thursday, April 19. “Words are very important.”
The topic of race is woven into the very fabric of our country, yet many Americans are fascinated, shocked, and horrified when instances of implicit bias, prejudice, and discrimination begin to rear their ugly heads in our modern day society in full view for the world to see. In the age of tolerance and acceptance, instances of racial profiling still litter and plague minorities, particularly AfricanAmericans, at an alarming and disproportionately high rate. In fact, according to the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), from 2005 to mid-2008, approximately 80% of the stops made by NYPD were for Blacks who comprise 25% of the city’s population. By comparison, only 10% of the stops were for whites who comprise 44% of the city’s population. If that doesn’t convince you that there’s a serious issue in this country, then chew on this: the Department of Justice completed an independent study on racial profiling and policing in Ferguson, Missouri, following the high profile Michael Brown case and found, you guessed it, evidence of racial profiling, prejudice, and an overwhelming amount of implicit bias.
Kevin Johnson is taking a very proactive approach in handling this unfortunate incident, including closing down 8K stores on May 29 for additional racial sensitivity training. Still, more work still needs to be done to erase the bias and assumptions of guilt that are placed upon African Americans. In the words of Johnson, “This is not who we are and not who we’re going to be.” One can only hope America feels the same.