Protestor Anthony Smith, right, leads a chant, in Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets on April 16, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pa. (Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Starbucks CEO apologizes for arrests of 2 black men at Philadelphia store as protests continue

PHILADELPHIA — Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized Monday for the arrests of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks, saying what happened to the pair was “reprehensible.”

The manager who called police to the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce streets on Thursday has left the company in what a company spokesperson called a “mutual” decision.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News and in an appearance on “Good Morning America” from Philadelphia, Johnson said he hopes to meet with the men face-to-face to personally apologize for the incident and to ensure it is not repeated in the future.

As Johnson spoke, activists resumed protests at the Starbucks store where the men were arrested Thursday while waiting to meet with a white acquaintance. A video of the arrests went viral and sparked outrage.

“In watching the video, it was painful,” said Johnson, who arrived in Philadelphia early Monday. “And that the incident that escalated and the outcome from it was reprehensible.

“It is my responsibility to ensure that we do a complete review and to make sure we understand how this could ever happen,” he said.

Johnson said some local stores have guidelines for dealing with possible trouble. In this particular case, those were ambiguous, he said.

“That ambiguity was part of what caused the problem, the ambiguity about when and whether to call the police. There are situations where it’s appropriate to call the police, situations where there are threats or disruptions in our store. This situation had none of that and these two gentlemen did not deserve what unfolded.”

Johnson said managers will now receive training on “unconscious bias.”

“The circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome in our store on Thursday were reprehensible. They were wrong,” Johnson said on “Good Morning America.” “For that, I personally apologize to the two gentlemen that visited our store.”

At 18th and Spruce, about 40 protesters, including Council member Helen Gym, massed inside the Starbucks Monday even as Johnson appeared on television.

As four police officers watched on, the demonstrators chanted, “Anti-blackness anywhere is anti-blackness everywhere,” and “Don’t arrest me. Arrest the police.”

“We have the right to be free. We have the liberty bell in our city … the bell is cracked for a reason,” said Michelle Taylor, better known on Twitter as Feminista Jones.

Megan Malachi, an organizer of Monday’s demonstration, said the Philly for REAL Justice group had received reports of similar incidents and Monday’s protest was not just against Starbucks, but also against pervasive bias against blacks around Center City.

“These are two black people who just wanted to be in the world,” said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, of the Black and Brown Workers Collective. “They weren’t protesting, they weren’t angry. They were waiting on a white friend to discuss business.”

The store’s regular employees were not on duty during the protest, which ended after several hours with a ceremonial pouring of a cup of coffee on the street.

“We’re politely allowing the protesters to speak and then they’ll [baristas] return to serving the community when they can,” said Camille Hymes, Starbucks regional vice president.

Another protest sponsored by Interfaith Clergy Leaders to occupy the Starbucks is set for 4 p.m. The Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor at Mother Bethel AME church and a leader at POWER, expects 100 to 200 clergy and congregation members to sit-in for two hours in a show of solidarity with the two men.

They also will present a list of demands to police for Starbucks.

Tyler said the incident “demonstrates that if you’re black there’s nobody that’s safe.”

“You can’t do anything less threatening as a black person than hanging out at Starbucks,” he said. “It says to us that it doesn’t matter what you attain in this country, black people and black lives are treated with the same amount of disrespect.”

The men had been sitting at a table waiting for an acquaintance Thursday, but had not purchased anything. When they were asked to leave and refused, a store manager called police. Police took the men into custody in an encounter that was captured on video that went viral over the weekend, sparking national outrage, even among the most faithful Starbucks customers.

The men were handcuffed and arrested, though no charges were filed against them.

On Sunday, protesters demanded the firing of the store manager who had called police and every Philadelphia police officer who participated in the arrest. About 75 people and at least two dozen uniformed officers attended the noon protest, organized by Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif.

Separate investigations into the episode are underway by the mayor’s office and the Philadelphia Police Department. Starbucks has launched its own investigation into its practices that led to this “bad outcome,” Johnson said in an earlier statement.

In an interview with 6ABC, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he wished the incident had not happened.

“I can tell you that that police officer did not want to have to make an arrest in that incident,” Ross said.

He said officers are often called to businesses when someone who is asked to leave but does not.

“Many instances people usually leave before we get there. In some instances, they leave when we arrive, just our mere presence. Most people will move just simply because we tell them the proprietor wants you to leave. In this case that was not the issue. That’s for [the arrested men] to decide why they didn’t do that.”

He said the men had been given three separate warnings over 15 minutes before they were arrested, showing “that there wasn’t a rush to judgment.”

“There are laws on the books that we have to follow. If we had our druthers we wouldn’t have came there in the first place,” Ross said.

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