What happened in that Starbucks on that fateful Thursday earlier this month was not unique in the way it began, but its climax smudged the images of the self-worshiping coffee chain and also what we call (even though we know better) the City of Brotherly Love.
Aggressively progressive Starbucks embarrassed itself in 2015 with a Race Together brainstorm encouraging its baristas (elsewhere known as servers) to launch conversations with customers about race. That might fly in its overwhelmingly white, progressive hometown of Seattle (66.3 percent white, 13.7 percent Asian, 7.7 percent black), but there are vast stretches of America in which “race” joins three other things you aren’t supposed to talk about in polite company — religion, politics, and money.
The same Starbucks employees who were to be racial intermediaries in 2015 now must endure a May 29 half-day reeducation camp on racial bias. When you pour sanctimony like hot milk, Starbucks has learned, your cup had better not be cracked.
I wondered how often Philly cops get called for retail trespass. From the police, I got reports of other trespass and loitering arrests for a 30-day period in the four Center City zip codes — 19102, 19103, 19106, 19107.
The month was March 16 to April 16. There were eight arrests, and I went to Municipal Court case records to get the details.
Six of them were people suspected of breaking and entering for burglary. The trespass was incidental.
The seventh was a March 10 armed robbery of a Park America garage at Second and Lombard by a 31-year-old white male.
The eighth was a March 22 arrest in the probation office at Broad and Arch. A 22-year-old black male was charged with defiant trespass and resisting arrest.
The numbers make it seem that calls from restaurants are rare — but the numbers are misleading, I was told by a police commander who requested anonymity for fear of becoming enmeshed in the Starbucks mess that had his commissioner groveling.
“Citywide, it’s not uncommon for retail to ask someone to leave,” the commander told me. “Whether it gets coded as ‘trespass’ depends on whether the person leaves.” In most cases, he or she does.
“It doesn’t feel right that it results in an arrest,” he said.
Those four words are incisive — “it doesn’t feel right.”
It doesn’t, and it didn’t look right, either. At Starbucks, it looked like racism, but where is the actual proof?
Retailers say they have a legal right to throw freeloaders out. Cops say that when they are called they must respond. Most blacks, Mayor Kenney, and others say the Starbucks incident was bigotry.
Let’s go to the “coulds.” The store manager could have waited a few more minutes to see if the two men would order something once their meeting began. The cops — as peace officers — could have taken a few minutes to try to resolve the confrontation. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson could have left the store or ordered a tall Red Velvet Cake Creme Frappuccino.
Everyone’s actions were somewhat justified, but none were the best and brightest.
Next month, Starbucks will have a self-flagellating session to command compassion in its stores. Philly’s cops will issue new directives for retail trespass any minute now.
Problem solved? Probably not. You can’t legislate common sense, especially in a culture looking for any reason to be offended.