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On Starbucks, Social Media and Racism

On Starbucks, Social Media and Racism

On April 12th, two black men were treated like criminals for doing what millions do on any given day in America. For sitting in a Starbucks, waiting for a business associate, two young, black men were arrested, finger printed, photographed, and detained by police for eight hours.

In response to these arrests, outrage on social media has spurred protests and boycotts of the American coffee company. The nightmare experienced by these young men has also galvanized America’s dialog about racial tension and the oppression of POC in the US.

What happened at Starbucks?

Two young, black men waiting for a business associate to show up, sat at a table at the Starbucks,18th Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 12th. The men, after trying to use the store’s restroom, were asked to leave because they had not ordered anything, yet.

When the men refused to leave, because they were waiting for someone, the manager called police. In response to this call, several police officers arrived, placed the two men in handcuffs, and led them out of the store.

At the police station they were photographed, fingerprinted, and held in police custody for eight hours, then released because no charges were or could be filed, as no laws had been broken.

In the video of the incident, you can see the two young men, well-groomed and well dressed, calmly complying with several police officers who are arresting them.

In the foreground of the shot, you can see real estate investor Andrew Yaff, the associate the two men were waiting for, questioning a police officer about the arrest.

Shocked, he says, “It’s ridiculous! What did they [the police] get call for? Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting? What did they do? What did they do? Somebody tell me what they did?”

To this question, a female voice off camera responds, “they didn’t do anything. I saw the entire thing.”

The Response

According to The Inquirer Daily News of Philadelphia, “the video, which was posted by Philadelphia-based author Melissa DePino on Thursday, shows at least six Philadelphia police officers taking the two men into custody without resistance.”

DePino, @missydepino, tweeted the video along with the comment: “@Starbucks 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 ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”

Shortly after posting, the video had been viewed over 4 million times. Public outcry came in response to the ill treatment of these young men. Many called for protest and boycott of Starbucks coffee. And public figures tweeted about the continued abuse of POC in America.

Wendell Pierce, @WendellPierce, a well-known, African American actor, tweeted,

Rev. Cornell William. Brooks, Esq., @CornellWBrooks, American lawyer, activist, and 18th president of the NAACP, tweeted,

In response to the indignation on social media, Starbucks tweeted an apology: “We regret that our practices and training led to the reprehensible outcome at our Philadelphia store. We’re taking immediate action to learn from this and be better”. The tweet included a link to a full apology from the CEO Kevin Johnson.

Racism

Derek Sells, a partner with the Johnnie Cochran Law Firm, told MSN news that the Starbucks case, “appears to be ‘egregious,’ and is bolstered by the comments from some white customers who say they’ve similarly sat in the restaurant without ordering coffee or food, yet were not asked to leave.”

Sells says, “That’s where you have what’s called disparate treatment, where two similarly situated individuals of different races are treated differently for doing the same thing.’’

DePino wrote for CNN, explaining why she tweeted the video: “Things like this happen to black and brown people in this country every single day, and they talk about it, tweet about it, and write about it, but for more reasons than I can discuss intelligently in this small space, people who look like me — white people — often don’t see, hear or believe their stories. And what’s even worse is that it often takes a black or brown person experiencing this type of painful situation — and having it exposed it to the world — for many of us to even get involved, which in and of itself is part of the larger problem.”

This incident is especially shocking since Starbucks, “has embraced a role as a community meeting place where people read, work on computers or just hang out, whether they buy anything or not” MSN reports. It would be hard to find any person in America who has not done in Starbucks what these two men did in—sit and wait.

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About Theresa Corbin

Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for AboutIslam.net and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.

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