The two black men arrested at Starbucks in Philadelphia last week — an event that sparked national outrage, public apologies and a racial-bias training program at the coffee chain’s 8,000 U.S. cafes — called for change in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America that aired Thursday morning.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who have laid low since a video showing the arrests a week ago went viral, spoke with anchor Robin Roberts detailing the events that unfolded. They were accompanied on the show by their attorney, Stewart Cohen, who said his clients were engaged in mediation with Starbucks with a retired federal judge serving as mediator.
Nelson said he asked to use the bathroom immediately when he arrived at the Starbucks and sat down next to Robinson after he was told he had to buy something to get into the restroom. The manager then approached the two, asking if they needed help with anything. Shortly after the men told her they were waiting for a meeting, the police arrived, Robinson said.
The widely shared video posted by user @MissyDePino shows the two men being taken away in handcuffs. The incident put the Seattle-based coffee chain in the center of controversy, while protests in front of the store at 18th and Spruce Streets ensued for three days over the weekend and Monday.
Robinson said he wants to make sure what happened to him and Nelson doesn’t happen to anyone else. While “rule are rules,” Thursday’s incident is more about “what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong,” he said.
“I want to make sure that … this situation doesn’t happen again,” he said on the show. “So what I want is for a young man or young men to not be traumatized by this and instead motivated, inspired.”
FULL INTERVIEW: "This is something that has been going on for years…everyone is blind to it."
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 19, 2018
Nelson shared a similar sentiment, and said he was taking “this opportunity as a stepping stone to really stand up and show your greatness and that you are not judged by the color of your skin as our ancestors were.”
“Just really taking those actions and putting them in their place and help people understand that it’s not just a black people thing,” he said. “This is a people thing.”
“This is something that has been going on for years and everyone’s blind to it,” Nelson said. “But they know what’s going on, if you get what I mean.”
In an interview with the the Associated Press, Nelson indicated he feared for his life during his arrest.
“Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind,” Nelson told the AP. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Robinson said he and Nelson, both 23 and friends since elementary school, went to the Starbucks to discuss a real-estate deal with businessman, who arrived about the time officers were leading the pair out to a police car.
“We’ve been working on this for months,” Robinson said in the interview with GMA
The two were arrested after a female manager called police and reported that the two men refused to leave after she told them they could not stay in the store without buying anything.
“Two gentlemen in my cafe… are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” she said in the 911 call made about 4:40 p.m. April 12 and released by Philadelphia police on Tuesday.
Minutes later, a radio dispatcher said a “group of males” was “refusing to leave.” Shortly after, a man can be heard saying that a “group of males” was “causing a disturbance” before requesting backup as well as a supervisor.
The incident report obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News says the two men cursed at the Starbucks store manager and refused to leave after officers repeatedly asked them to. It also accused the men of insulting police by saying, “Cops don’t know the laws,” and “Y’all make 45G a year.”
In the GMA interview, the men did not describe what they said to the police.
The report categorized the incident as “defiant trespass,” although the District Attorney’s Office ultimately declined to charge either man with a crime.
Commissioner Richard Ross took to Facebook over the weekend to say the arresting officers acted appropriately. Mayor Kenney said that the city has “work to do.”
Starbucks announced this week that it would close all of its U.S. stores the afternoon of May 29 while its employees undergo a “racial-bias education.”
“Closing our stores for racial-bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities,” Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said in a statement.
John Gossett, 48, who lives two houses from Nelson’s home in Southwest Philly, praised Nelson to Inquirer and Daily News reporters this week.
“Rashon is a good kid, he’s a good father, and he’s not a thug,” added Gossett, who was Nelson’s middle-school football coach.
“He’s an outstanding young man who was meeting someone about a real estate deal, and look what happened,” Gossett added.
A march for police accountability is planned Thursday at 5 p.m.