Starbucks To Close Over 8,000 Locations For Sensitivity Training After Arrest Of Two Black Men

Starbucks will close down more than 8,000 of its US shops on May 29 to train nearly 175,000 employees in “racial bias education,” following an incident in which a store manager called the police on a pair of black men at a Philadelphia location who were reportedly waiting for a friend to arrive.

Video of the two men being hauled off in handcuffs for trespassing went viral after it was published on social media – leading to a public apology by the company amid growing protests. 

I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” said Starbucks ceo Kevin Johnson in a Tuesday statement. “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution. Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”

The sensitivity training will be developed with input from local and national experts on racial bias – including Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, ceo of the Anti-Defamation League

On Monday, Johnson met with the two men to apologize in a private meeting for what he called “reprehensible” circumstances which led to their arrest. 

“I will fix this,” Johnson added in a recorded message.

Johnson also told “Good Morning America” that “what happened to those two gentlemen was wrong,” and that the company was actively reviewing the actions of the store manager who called the cops. The manager has been fired. 

“My responsibility is to look not only to that individual but look more broadly at the circumstances that set that up just to ensure that never happens again,” Johnson said Monday.

COO Rosalind Brewer, a black woman, told NPR that the incident was “a teachable moment for all of us,” saying that as an African American executive who has a 23-year-old son, she found the viral videos of the incident painful to watch. 

“It would be easy for us to say that this was a one-employee situation, but I have to tell you, it’s time for us to, myself included, take personal responsibility here and do the best that we can to make sure we do everything we can” 

One of the two cellphone videos of the incident had over 9 million views by Monday morning, reports the Washington Post.

A spokesman for Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner said that there “wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge [the men] with a crime.” 

Johnson said Monday that there are scenarios that warrant a call to police — including threats and other disturbances — but that in this case, “it was completely inappropriate to engage the police.”

The police were criticized for their handling of the situation. On Monday, the department referred to the police commissioner’s Facebook Live video from Saturday. Commissioner Richard Ross said in the video that one or both of the men asked to use the restroom but had not purchased anything. An employee said Starbucks company policy was to refuse the use of the restrooms to non-customers and asked the men to leave, according to Ross. The employee called the police when they refused. –WaPo

These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy; they did what they were supposed to do. They were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen,” Ross said in the video. “And instead, they got the opposite back.” Ross said police arrested the men after they refused three requests to leave. 

Starbucks executives were described as “very contrite” during a meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who said that Starbucks “will cooperate fully with our probes of the matter, particularly the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations’ review of Starbucks’ policies. All parties agree that the outcome of this incident was extremely unfortunate and that’s why we are reviewing the incident seriously.”

He added: “This is not just a Starbucks issue. This is a societal issue. People can react differently to others based on skin color, and that is wrong. We have work to do, and we need to do so productively.”

There is currently no companywide guidelines for Starbucks employees to follow in regards to asking members of the public to leave, one company official said. Instead, Starbucks leaves safety and customer service decisions up to store managers, a store manager told the Washington Post on condition of anonymity. 

Managers may leave restroom doors unlocked or add key-code entries if they feel the store is more at risk of criminal behavior. A store in the same area of Philadelphia was hit with an armed robbery recently, the official said. –WaPo

Meanwhile, that picture of the Starbucks employee being shouted at by protesters turned into a caption contest: