Starbucks, fire the employee who called the police on black men | Jenice Armstrong

Camille Hymes, center, regional vice president of MidAtlanitc Operations at Starbucks Coffee Company, speaks with Asa Khalif, of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania.

That Starbucks employee who sicced police on those two black men last week couldn’t have been more wrong.

That was a racist act and, frankly, I’m infuriated. Non-paying customers use Starbucks’ restrooms all the time without having purchased something. People also hang out in Starbucks for hours without having bought anything. They bring their laptops and park themselves in a spot. You see it all the time.

>> READ MORE: Latest updates on the Starbucks controversy

I don’t do it. I can never forget I’m black long enough to risk hanging out like that. Call me hypervigilant if you want, but what happened Thursday afternoon to those two black men arrested while waiting for an acquaintance inside the Starbucks at the 18th and Spruce is proof that the old double standards still live.

Granted, we don’t know all of the details about what took place before a Starbucks worker dialed 911 last week but witnesses say the men, whose names haven’t been released, hadn’t done anything to draw attention to themselves.

>>READ MORE: Starbucks CEO in Philly as another protest planned for Monday at coffee shop

Reportedly, they were waiting on an acquaintance and had asked to use Starbucks’ restroom but were denied access because they hadn’t bought anything. When store management asked them to leave, they refused. Around 4:40 p.m., at least six Philadelphia Police officers showed up, and, after some back-and-forth, escorted the men out in handcuffs as if they’d each stolen an armload of overpriced Starbucks mugs.

Judging from a viral video of the episode, it was an appalling scene, one that was carried out in full view of customers. Kant Khatri was among those at the Starbucks that afternoon. He’d been studying for an actuarial exam when the officers came in.

“I’ve seen plenty of people of all races just sit there without buying anything and never saw a problem. One time, one of the baristas asked a man not to sleep there in a chair, but that’s it. No police involvement,” Khatri told me by Facebook Messenger. “I was shocked. Partly because it didn’t make sense why that had to happen. But also because I know if they were two white guys, I don’t think the same situation would have unfolded.”

I don’t think so, either.  Nor do a whole lot of other folks, which is why people are so worked up about the Starbucks employee’s decision to summon the police.

“I was just sitting there because I could, nursing the same cup of coffee that you do,” said Melissa DePino, who shared video of the episode on her Twitter account. “I was working on the computer like people do at Starbucks.”

“A lot of people stood up in there and expressed their anger and frustration about what was happening,” DePino told me. “It was really good to see. It needs to happen way more.”

>>READ MORE: Starbucks arrests put Philly police in national spotlight

She’s not lying about that. More people need to speak up, something made even more apparent Sunday afternoon.

Dozens had gathered outside the Starbucks near Rittenhouse Square to listen as Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania and others denounced the men’s arrests. As he spoke, customers inside were sipping on lattes and working on their laptops as if the demonstrators, TV cameras, and police were miles away. At one point, Khalif and other protesters entered the Starbucks where they were met by Camille Hymes, a company vice president. One customer sitting at a table covered his head with a newspaper. Some others didn’t appear especially fazed. After the crowd left, I peeked inside and saw that some were still sitting where they had been, just hanging out, like people do in Starbucks.

But as I pointed out earlier, that’s not illegal.

What happened to those two men was racist, and frankly I’m sick of it. Apologies aren’t enough. Starbucks needs to make this right and do it quickly. It can begin by firing the employee who called the police on the two black men.

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