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Backlash After Black Men Arrested At Starbucks


The #BoycottStarbucks hashtag is trending on Twitter today days after two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for trespassing. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson called the situation disheartening and apologized to the men. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has called for a review of Starbucks policies, including whether there's a need for implicit bias training. But that has done little to satisfy the growing outcry against Starbucks and the police, and has shown how implicit bias affects black men in all sorts of ways.

Here in the studio with me this morning is NPR's Gene Demby. He's co-host of NPR's Code Switch podcast. Good morning.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we know the general outline of what happened. Police were called by a Starbucks employee who said the men were trespassing. They hadn't bought anything. They were then, though, handcuffed and led out of the Starbucks by a group of police officers. And it was all caught on video.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Well, what did they do? What did they do? Someone tell me what they did.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: They didn't do anything. I saw the entire thing.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What did they do?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This wasn't a violent encounter. The police don't appear to be particularly aggressive. So why is this getting so much attention?

DEMBY: The video was posted by a bystander named Melissa DePino. And the caption to her video read, (reading) 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. All the other white people are wondering why it's never happened to us when we do the same thing.

And so I think that reaction is about how invisible these kind of encounters are so often.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And they were just sitting there in a Starbucks, as many people do while either waiting for people...

DEMBY: While you're waiting for someone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Waiting for someone or working on something. So are people blaming Starbucks, the Philadelphia police? Whom?

DEMBY: It's both, right? I mean, the Starbucks CEO apologized and said, you know, this incident should not have escalated as it did. Of course once you introduce the police into a situation, these things escalate, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course 'cause that's what the police does. It - you know, they arrest people.

DEMBY: Right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's what they're there for. They're law enforcement.

DEMBY: They have guns. They're armed, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They're armed.

DEMBY: There are all these ways that these things escalate when they're there. But a lot of people were frustrated by the police because these two men were held until 2:30 the next morning reportedly. So, I mean, just imagine a world in which these two men, one - like, let's say they had a night job. And they were in police custody until 2:30 in the morning. And one of them loses their night job, you know, I mean, like because they were - they weren't available. They didn't show up. There are all these ways in which police contact disrupts people's lives short of, like, physical injury. Short of physical injury and short of death that is often invisible, but it is very, very routine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should mention that also last Thursday, a 14-year-old in Michigan, Brennan Walker, missed his bus to school when he knocked on a door in the neighborhood to get direction. And he was shot at by the homeowner. It's been quite a weekend. And..

DEMBY: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...These two incidents are actually being paired.

DEMBY: Yeah, that's right. They're kind of of a piece. And thankfully Brennan Walker was not harmed - physically, anyway. But Phillip Atiba Goff, who's the president of the Center for Policing Equity, he said that a lot of this contact between black people and the police is initiated by members of the public who call 911 to resolve issues they have with fellow citizens. Those...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's about the racial bias that people have just generally in society.

DEMBY: Exactly. It's - I mean, the people who are calling have their own biases, right? In this case the Starbucks manager called the police because they were suspicious that these two men, these two black men, should not have been there. In the Michigan case, the homeowner shot at this young boy because he felt like he shouldn't have been there. He was a 14-year-old boy asking for directions.

And Goff says that any honest conversation about fixing racial bias in policing, which is something we've been paying a lot of attention to over the last few years as a country, we can't really partition that from the racial biases of the communities, right? I'm just going to quote his tweet here - "officers have the same biases as the broader society. But the problem isn't just with badges and guns. It is also with badges and guns. The problem begins with a culture that renders black children and patrons as threats."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Gene Demby is the co-host of NPR's Code Switch podcast. Thank you so much.

DEMBY: Thank you so much, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gene Demby is the co-host and correspondent for NPR's Code Switch team.