Mainstream Media Reporting and Starbucks’ Apology | #ImplicitBias on Blog#42

Mainstream Media Reporting and Starbucks’ Apology | #ImplicitBias on Blog#42

Two Black men walk into a Starbucks…

They’re there to meet with a white man who hasn’t arrived yet. They do as most people would do in this situation, they sit and wait for their date to arrive before ordering. Meanwhile, one of the men asks to use the bathroom. That requests sets off the sequence of events that has been all over the news. The men eventually get arrested, at around 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon.

They’re released from jail that Saturday at 1:30 p.m., but only because the Starbucks store manager has declined to press charges.

The video of the arrest is viewed by millions on Twitter and elsewhere. The hashtag #BoycottStarbucks trends. Starbucks apologizes:

The apology doesn’t go over well and later on Saturday, the CEO issues his own longform apology on the company’s website. The apology seems sincere enough, until you reach this passage:

We have immediately begun a thorough investigation of our practices. In addition to our own review, we will work with outside experts and community leaders to understand and adopt best practices. The video shot by customers is very hard to watch and the actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks Mission and Values. Creating an environment that is both safe and welcoming for everyone is paramount for every store. Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome—the basis for the call to the Philadelphia police department was wrong. Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did.”

That last sentence undoes every word in this apology. If it wasn’t the intention of the manager to cause these men’s arrest, why call the police? If it wasn’t the intention for this situation to escalate, why not simply tell these men that due to company policy, they are unable to provide them with a bathroom code until they’ve purchased something and a receipt is printed? Why was calling the police even necessary?

Starbucks built its reputation on being the place where you can “stay as long as you want.” CNET’s Rafe Needleman reported in 2009, that:

“Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, in fact, was a big proponent of building a comfortable third place for people to work and socialize. (The first two places being home and the traditional office.) It’s part of the company’s mission.

Starbucks’ official response to this movement: “We strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our customers. We do not have any time limits for being in our stores, and continue to focus on making the Third Place experience for every Starbucks customer.””

I guess that Third Place is a privileged spot after all. Since Schultz’ departure from day-to-day operations, Starbucks has instituted a policy of only allowing paying customers to use their bathrooms. It has been my personal observation that this policy is enforced only in downtown areas where the numbers of homeless are higher. The suburban Starbucks stores I frequent haven’t yet had combination locks installed. Coincidence? I think not.

But I digress…

Unlike its chief of police, at least, Philadelphia’s mayor and District Attorney correctly interpreted this incident for what it is: racial bias. NPR reported on both figures’ reactions:

“”In a statement released Saturday, Philadelphia’s mayor Jim Kenney criticized Starbucks for its role in the arrests:

“I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that — at least based on what we know at this point — appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018. For many, Starbucks is not just a place to buy a cup of coffee, but a place to meet up with friends or family members, or to get some work done. Like all retail establishments in our city, Starbucks should be a place where everyone is treated the same, no matter the color of their skin.”

The mayor’s statement says Starbucks’ apology, which the company issued on its Twitter account earlier Saturday, was not enough. Kenney also says he has asked the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to look into whether additional implicit bias training should be required of Starbucks employees, and his office has reached out to Starbucks directly to discuss the matter.””

Implicit bias training is something all employers should provide – regardless of what it is their employees do. Employees whose job entails interacting with the public should receive additional training. That is something that Howard Schultz maladroitly attempted to address in 2015, when he started his “race together” initiative, for baristas to start conversations on race with their customers, by scrawling a message on their cups. The late journalist, Gwen Ifill best summed up the public reaction:

AJ+ put things in perspective:

Just as it isn’t Starbucks’ place to engage customers in a dialogue on race over minute long transactions, it also isn’t their place to contribute to this nation’s race and class wars.

Instituting this bathroom policy gave this Starbucks manager a tool with which to practice their racist beliefs. Our nation’s legal doctrine on property is deeply rooted in its racist past. A place of business can, on a dime, have someone arrested and charged for trespassing, when their business model is predicated around customers walking into their property. By definition, loitering is at the heart of Starbucks’ business model. Who among us hasn’t spent several hours on end with their laptop at their local Starbucks? Howard Schultz understood the value of hospitality. If current CEO, Kevin Johnson, truly wants to make amends, he must begin by apologizing for adding a caveat to his apology:

“Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did.”

Never intended? What in the world? This statement is offensive. The store manager knew what they were doing and why. Johnson needs to own that before attempting to do any more damage control.

Bathroom policies are discriminatory by design. Their sole purpose is to keep out some portion of the public. In this case, the homeless are the target of that policy. How many times have you seen a homeless person go into a Starbucks to purchase a coffee or sandwich when they’ve gathered enough donations? How many times have you seen people buy food and drink for a homeless person? How many times have you gone through a Starbucks drive-through and found that the person before you paid for your food and drink? That’s because Starbucks encouraged people to pay it forward, as a matter of policy. Starbucks should take some time to reevaluate its relationship with the public and get back in touch with the ethos inculcated by its founder.

As for the media, as time goes by and these incidents continue to happen, it disappoints to see how little changes. Johnson’s page-long apology was reported only in part by the mainstream corporate media. While they linked to Starbucks’ website, most outlets made no mention of Johnson’s caveat. They should have. For many who were offended and expect much more from Starbucks, such reporting gives them the impression that all is good again.

There is more than enough implicit bias to go around in this nation. The media needs to stick to all the facts and not inject its own bias to the mix…

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Full police encounter at Starbucks:

Philadelphia Chief of Police’ statement:


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