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Starbucks arrest of men ‘waiting while being black’ sparks outrage in Philadelphia

Two African-American men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week after a store manager reportedly called police after the men asked to use the bathroom without buying anything. The backlash has been unmoved by the CEO's apologies and a call for unconscious bias training for employees. Amna Nawaz gets reaction from Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last week, two African-American men were arrested in a downtown Philadelphia Starbucks.

    Amna Nawaz looks at how the Seattle-based coffee chain is struggling to address the resulting outcry on social media and elsewhere.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that outcry built to a crowd of protesters at that particular Starbucks today, unmoved by CEO Kevin Johnson's apologies and call for unconscious bias training for employees.

    All this after video of last Thursday's incident went viral. The clip shows police officers confronting two black men seated inside the Starbucks as they wait for a third guest. The store manager reportedly called police after the men asked to use the bathroom without buying anything first.

    Minutes of calm conversation follow. Police officers eventually handcuff both men and force them to leave. Starbucks' Kevin Johnson today called the arrests reprehensible, apologized to the men, and vowed to make sure this didn't happen again.

    For more on this, I am joined by Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the district in which this Starbucks is located.

    Councilman Johnson, thank you for your time, and welcome.

    I want to begin by asking you now, since you have met with a number of people involved in this incident, why do you believe that it ended up in this way?

  • Kenyatta Johnson:

    Well, you know, first and foremost, being the councilperson of the 2nd Councilmanic District, which is a very diverse district, but we also represent the Starbucks in my district, I want to make sure, as a councilperson, that no form of racial bias or racial profiling is accepted.

    And so we called a press conference today to address this issue and to denounce the recent arrest of the two African-American young men who were arrested after waiting while being black in the Starbucks cafe.

    And as we move forward, we want to make sure that Starbucks have come up with a plan to specifically address the issue of diversity and inclusion, as well as addressing the issue of racial awareness when it comes to how their business operates.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, Councilman, you have now spoken to a number of people involved. You have seen a lot more than most of us, who have only seen the video.

  • Kenyatta Johnson:


  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you believe that these men are the victims of racial bias?

  • Kenyatta Johnson:


    You know, everyone knows that Starbucks' brand is, you can come there, use their Wi-Fi and, in that environment, you know, have meetings and take a moment and take care of your day-to-day business while you're inside their particular store. That's always a part of their brand.

    In this particular case, you have two African-American young men. They're not dressed in suits. They're in Rittenhouse Square, which is a high-income area in Center City, Philadelphia. And the person who actually called the police, I believe, overreacted, when she had the interaction with these young men who said they were waiting for someone to come and meet with them.

    And that resulted in her calling the cops, which resulted in the unnecessary arrest of the two African-American young men. And so a lot of people in my district are in outrage. A lot of people in my district want answers.

    But, most importantly, they want to make sure we continue to hold Starbucks accountable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let me ask you about that.

    Now, the first reaction from Starbucks was a rather tepid policy. The backlash grew. There was then a more robust statement followed by a video statement from the CEO, Kevin Johnson, in which he said this-

  • Kevin Johnson:

    These two gentlemen didn't deserve what happened. And we are accountable. I am accountable.

    Now, going through this, I'm going to do everything I can to ensure it is fixed and never happens again, whether that is changes to the policy and the practice, additional store manager training, including training around unconscious bias, and we will address this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Councilman Johnson, are you satisfied with Starbucks' response?

  • Kenyatta Johnson:

    Not at all.

    You know, listen, I have worked with several major corporations in a variety of different aspects regarding organizing for wages for low-income individuals, and I know how this game works.

    We need to see more than just lip service. We need an action plan that specifically goes toward racial sensitive training, but also a campaign to let the people here in the city of Philadelphia know that anyone is welcome to come to the Starbucks cafe without being — without fearing any type of racial or social bias perspective when it comes to individuals hanging out or coming to frequent and patronize their business.

    It's totally unacceptable. Again, people are in outrage, and we have to continue to make sure that they aren't just giving an apology. We want an action plan to actually address this issue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned that the manager who had originally first called the police to the scene, she has now reportedly been removed from the store pending an investigation.

    Is that the standard to which you, as councilman, would hold other businesses in your district, that they should remove employees who exhibit any kind of racial bias?

  • Kenyatta Johnson:


    I would go even further to say if the evidence shows that they have exhibited some sort of racial bias, they should be fired, to be frank with you, because, at the end of the day, nobody should feel, in the year 2018, any form of racial discrimination, regardless of their background, regardless of their lifestyle and, most importantly, regardless of their race.

    And so this is totally unacceptable. And Starbucks must be held accountable. And beyond just issuing an apology, beyond just removing the young lady, we need to have an action plan to make sure there's racial sensitivity training for the employees.

    We need to also make sure the people of Philadelphia know, from an racial awareness campaign from Starbucks, that anyone can come to Starbucks and feel welcome, without feeling that they will be kicked out based upon their race, creed or color.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, thanks for your time.

  • Kenyatta Johnson:

    Thanks for having me here today.

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