SBA/RR Challenge, Current Events, Starbucks Memories and Starbucks Incident in Philly

As most everyone knows now, an ugly incident took place in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. 

A Starbucks employee called 911 to complain that two men were in the store refusing to make a purchase.  Police were dispatched, arrested the men, and took them to the police station.

The men were black, and some immediately called the arrest a racist act, but things seem to be more complicated than that. 

Starbucks is a private business, and at least some stores have a policy that you can’t use the bathroom unless you buy something.  The two men arrested claimed they were waiting on a friend.  The store employee felt that the men were loitering.  The Starbucks in the 1800 block of Spruce is in a fairly gentrified area of Philadelphia, according to reports, and some have ventured that the act may have been engendered by perceived wealth disparity with neighborhood residents.  Not every black person thinks that this was a case of racism.

Since the incident the CEO of Starbucks has apologized.  The employee is no longer working at the store, but we don’t know whether that employee was fired or simply transferred.

My experience with Starbucks began in the early 1990s in Seattle. 


Curt Cobain

Looking more mainstream than most of the Ave. residents in the early 1990s.

Curt Cobain had just died, and The Last Exit on Brooklyn (a ‘60s coffee house seminal in starting the coffee culture in Seattle) had closed. The “Ave” in the University of Washington District was a hangout for every sort of “alternative” person imaginable.  There were tattoos, piercings, hair dyed Manic Panic colors, and there was a coffee stand on almost every corner with a barista making coffee for the rain-soaked and chilled residents of the city.

Residents of the Ave slept on the street in some cases and used the coffee shop restrooms.  I can understand how Starbucks’ policy of requesting a purchase before use of the facilities may have started.

I remember meeting a couple on the street near the University of Washington campus whose faces I can still see vividly.  He had a homemade tattoo of a spider on the end of his nose with a spider web covering his face.  He looked angry, was older than she, and his spider looked like a prison tattoo.

The girl, by contrast, was young, had piercings, one half of her head was shaved with a multicolor tattoo all within her hairline, and on the other side of her head her hair was spiked and dyed green.

He glared at me as they walked by.  She was staring at the ground.

While they were extreme, it was not by much.  Starbucks was already rising to the level of being successful enough to go public.  The company had a ready supply of “hippie kids” there and as Starbucks spread the stores seemed to prefer to hire alternative kids.  Because there were very few minority residents in Seattle then, those alternative kids were white.

In recent years, though, things have changed.   We have a Starbucks here, but it is in an Engle’s grocery, and the employees that make your coffee concoction look just like everyone else in this area, white and working class, and that’s what I’ve noticed around the South.  Unless the Starbucks is in a college town there are no hippie kids behind the counter.  In areas where there are significant numbers of black or Hispanic residents that is reflected in the employee mix.

What bothers me most about this incident, I think, is that the confrontation at the Starbucks escalated to the point that the police were called and the two men were arrested.  Things have changed so much in America.

When I was a college student hitchhiking around the Northwest I got stuck in Pocatello, Idaho.  I spent the day moving through town with my thumb out and finally around dusk I went into a 24 hour diner, threw my duffel bag on the seat and ordered a cup of coffee and nothing to eat because I had no money.  A middle aged woman brought me a cup of coffee and every hour or so asked if I needed a refill. 

I spent the whole night in the diner and was never bothered by anyone.  I looked scruffy.  I had been working and living in the same clothes all summer, and had a beard.  The next morning I got back out on the road, and eventually got a ride all the way to the western part of Nebraska.

I wasn’t hassled, much less arrested, for loitering, but I don’t know how I would have been treated had I been black, Hispanic or Indian, and that is the innocence that has been referred to as White Privilege.




Views: 1132

Comment by koshersalaami on April 19, 2018 at 7:40am

These guys are clearly not street folk. 

Comment by Steel Breeze on April 19, 2018 at 7:47am

never said they were....only tellin what i've seen..

Comment by koshersalaami on April 19, 2018 at 8:01am

I listened to the first guy in the video above saying “buy something.” Then I asked myself why they wouldn’t.

I can think of one reason. Let’s say I tell a customer of mine I’ll meet them at a Starbucks and I run late. As the sales guy, it’s my tab. If I take a customer out, they don’t go near that check.

However, if I were in their shoes, I still would have bought something to get the store people to chill.

I absolutely don’t understand why the arrest didn’t stop when the guy meeting them showed up. 

Long and the short of it is that racism was clearly involved but this would have been absurdly easy for either side to defuse. If I went in dressed really badly (I’d have to dress badly because I’m White), sat around and used the bathroom and someone gave me a hard time because they thought I was a bum hanging out, I’d pick the cheapest thing in the store and buy it. I looked up online and a tall iced coffee is $1.95. 

Comment by Maui Surfer on April 19, 2018 at 8:02am

I commend the Starbucks CEO, he has always been a cut above the typical one percent asshole. That said, Starbucks is just McDonalds for Yuppies and the lesser IQ Hipster. For Dogs Sake, support your LOCAL coffee shop. I used to do advertising work for Hawaii's Coffee Association, the running joke was the quality of Starbucks product ... not quite up to Hawaiian, or Jamaican, or Ethiopian, standards. First world meets Third, loses badly.

Then there are the racist pig employees ...

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 19, 2018 at 8:23am

Starbs says the shut-down for training costs $12M. 

I lived for years five blocks of that location; it's forever been an area of upper-middles and upper class professionals, racially mixed, welcoming to all genders, and at one time the home of the politically vital lgbt community in Philadelphia and always has had terrific restaurants, very near to the elite center city cultural institutions. 

Had the person calling the police handled it absent her sense of threat, she'd have fast found out the men were there to have a business meeting w a third person who hadn't yet shown. 

Anyone w a brain knows that had these been two white guys the cop call would not have been made.

Comment by Maui Surfer on April 19, 2018 at 8:42am

I knew we couldn't make it to three in a row Monkey, this is absurd. Starbucks, and these are mature adults, not loitering kids, is ALWAYS filled with people sitting and not necessarily immediately buying or purchasing again and again. This was a RACIST, typical Philly move, and, it cost them 12 million dollars as J-Dub says ... they can afford it, and, frankly, it will be money well spent.

Comment by koshersalaami on April 19, 2018 at 8:43am

We have no way of knowing whether these guys decided on the location in the first place. My guess is that the guy they were meeting with suggested it. 

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on April 19, 2018 at 9:49am point is we don't know about that woman calling the cops.  why assume racism? 

FM, for a long time I would have agreed with you...  "We don't know that it was racism!"  The thing is (partial due to Ron's emphasis on the subject) I have come around to "Unless you can prove differently, it WAS racism".  

Why I now look at it 180 degrees differently then I used to is because "We don't know..." has become the "go to" cop out of white people who don't want to acknowledge just how common discrimination really is.

That's why, now, if there is any question as to whether something occurred or not, I "assume" that it is discrimination until THEY prove it's not because 99.9999% of the time it DID occur!

P.S.  Starbucks isn't pissing away 12 million buck and the CEO isn't saying what he did just because...  THEY (they being the people who looked deeply into what occurred and actually talked to the barista) are SURE it occurred, so us saying otherwise is kind of disingenuous. 

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 19, 2018 at 11:35am

Good post, Rodney. I'm not sure I know what to think about this one, although I assume it was racism and so does the CEO of Starbucks... or he's behaving as if he thinks it was to tamp down public reaction and move forward with customer goodwill.

I've been asked to leave more than one coffee shop while we were driving across country for not ordering and wanting to just sit a minute and use the restroom, that doesn't for a minute make me think this incident in Philly *wasn't* racism....

I think the CEO is doing the right thing. and I appreciated his words and promise of continued actions to change how employees treat customers. but were they customers? I don't get this part, the refusal to leave. I've been asked to leave restaurants when we linger too long after we eat, even, if tables are needed for new customers. That's not so unusual to me, regardless of who you are. Rude, personally, but not unusual.

That's the part I don't know what to think or what the two men were thinking: I still don't understand why the men there refused to leave when asked to. or just buy something. why the business exists in the first place. That is the unusual behavior to me, most people would leave or buy something.

And to be fair, maybe they explained that part and I didn't see it, but why refuse to leave when asked? That seems to be the sticking point for so many who'd rather not call out racism....

And at this point, it's being treated as if, regardless. I think that's appropriate. There's been too much death by racists and racism and better to teach and train and correct more more more than not enough. I'll take the CEO's word on it that it was, they're the ones who know the details and the woman no longer works there, too, which seems to confirm (or confirm the optics that it appeared to be racism), personally. 

Basically, the actions need to be taken, the changes need to happen, since black people in America need to feel as safe and valued and respected as anyone else.

(That 'feeling safe and valued and respected' trend is lessening for all races, imho, but that's another story.)

Comment by koshersalaami on April 19, 2018 at 11:43am

I see myself too much in the video of the guy they were meeting. I could see setting up a business meeting with a couple of guys at a Starbucks because they were working on a project in the neighborhood and this way I could buy them a cup of coffee and talk to them. I’m running late, they show up and wait for me, one gets hassled for trying to use the bathroom and I walk in to find them being cuffed. If I picked the Starbucks I’d wonder what in the Hell I ended up doing to them. Particularly if I’m a regular. I could just see it. It’s such a simple arrangement. Who the Hell could predict the guys I was meeting with could get cuffed for waiting for me? 


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