On Thursday, April 12, two men were arrested and removed from a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia. They were black, while most of the other patrons were white, and their forced removal by policemen has triggered protest marches, a mass protest at the Starbucks, and the firing of the manager who had called the police.
There have been no historical incidents of racism at the Starbucks in question, nor any prior allegations against the now-fired and publicly demonized manager. What did exist is a video, posted by a patron who has repeatedly stated that nothing like this would ever happen to a white person (note: the patron is white.)
What also exists is a law against something called loitering. In Philadelphia, their code reads:
(a) Loitering. Idling or lounging in or about any place or facility described in (2), so as to prevent others from passage, ingress or egress, or to idle or lounge in or about any place or facility described in (2) in violation of any existing statutes or ordinances.(b) Private Property Used to Accommodate the Public. Any building, structure, equipment or other thing, including the land upon which it is situate, abutting premises that are used incidentally for the accommodation of the public, including the sidewalks and streets adjacent thereto.(2) Prohibited Conduct. No person shall loiter in, on or about any underground platform or concourse, or any elevated platform serving public transportation facilities, or any underground or elevated passageway used by the public, or any railroad or railway passenger station or platform, or on the steps leading to any of them. No person shall loiter in, on or about private property used to accommodate the public.(3) Duties of Persons Controlling Private Property Used to Accommodate the Public. The owner, lessee, manager or other person in control of any real estate which is used to accommodate the public shall ask any person violating this Section to voluntarily correct the violation and if the violator neglects or refuses to correct his violation shall make a report immediately to the Police Department and cooperate with the police in removing any violator from the private property used to accommodate the public.
Starbucks has a rule against people using their facilities, whether bathroom or lounge, without paying for food or beverage. This is part of their business model. They want people to hang around and drink many highly-priced coffees while nibbling highly-priced snacks.
The two people in question refused to buy anything. They were using the Starbucks property in violation of the rules set forth by the owners of that property. In simpler terms, loitering.
It has been alleged by those perceiving racial injustice that these two were targeted for arrest because of their race.
In downtown areas, where space is at a premium and especially in areas with high homeless populations, loitering is a common problem and managers are encouraged to prevent it. An interview with the Washington Post demonstrates that:
At a McDonald’s near Rittenhouse Square, a sign alerts customers to the store’s 20-minute time limit for consuming food. “PLEASE — NO LOITERING,” the sign said in bold, capital black letters.
Latasha Adams, a manager at the restaurant, defended the restaurant’s policies on loitering and trespassing. Almost once a day, Adams says, employees have to escort an unruly visitor or patron out of the store.
Adams said the time limit is necessary even for paying customers who keep to themselves, to prevent them from “taking advantage of the situation.”
“The customer doesn’t like it when people trespass,” Adams said. “It kind of hurts our business because who wants to eat here when you have a trespasser just chilling in here, just taking up spaces that are supposed to be for the customers?”
I’m assuming Latasha is not white, as she is not castigated for her thoughtlessness in the interview.
A counterpoint in the Post article is provided from a Barnes & Noble manager (a store which has a much greater available customer area than a Starbucks, rendering the comparison inappropriate) and an ACLU lawyer who is not a business owner in the area. The only direct comparison between the managerial decisions is with Latasha Adams, who shares the same policy as the Starbucks manager.
At the coffee house, two police arrived and spoke to the men quietly. The men refused to leave, after which four more police arrived and the two men were handcuffed.
The police did not physically harm the two men in any way, nor did they charge them. They merely ushered them out of the building because they would not buy anything.
The now-jobless manager was following corporate policy. The people who broke the law are being championed.
Nobody refused anyone service because of skin color. To the contrary, they were repeatedly asked to buy anything the store sells. They simply felt they had no need to respect the rights of Starbucks to own and control their property. The outrage generated by the video underscored that point: contrary to all evidence, it was portrayed as a racial bias case.
The response of the Starbucks CEO on Tuesday was to not merely apologize again, but to schedule bias recognition training for everyone in the corporate office and all employees of the company-run stores.
By doing so, he has made it clear that the inherent property rights of Starbucks – and, by extension, all franchisees – are subordinate to the perceived entitlement of anyone who can lay claim to an affront.