Philadelphia Starbucks case: What we've learned since the arrests

It has been a month since the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks spun the Seattle-based coffee chain into a whirlwind of controversy and sparked a national discussion about racial bias.

A lot has happened since then — customers have called for boycotts, protests ensued, apologies and criticisms poured in, and racial bias training is scheduled for Starbucks employees later this month.

It all started with a short video shared on Twitter of the pair — Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both 23 — being taken out of the store at 18th and Spruce Streets in handcuffs after the manager called police. They had been asked to leave because they hadn’t bought anything, and refused.

Here’s a rundown of events since April 12.

Friday, May 11

Thursday, May 3

  • Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson appeared on Good Morning America for the second time since the video of their arrest went viral. The both wish to focus on the positivity that has come out of the incident, including the program they plan to start for young entrepreneurs. “Looking at how we took a negative and turned it into a positive, that’s really all we want,” Robinson told anchor Robin Roberts. “Not to focus on the negative, but just to focus on positive outcome.”

Wednesday, May 2

Sunday, April 22

  • Another protest was held outside of the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets, this time including more than 100 members of Omega Psi Psi ‚ the fraternity Rashon Nelson belonged to while attending Bloomsberg University — from across the nation. “My skin color is not a crime,” Terrance Jenkins, president of the graduate chapter of Omega Psi Phi, which advises the undergraduate chapter at Bloomsburg, said during the event.

Thursday, April 19

  • Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he made the situation surrounding the arrests worse, by saying his officers did nothing wrong. He said he would have used different words had he known Starbucks allowed people to stay in its cafes for hours without making a purchase. The officers also did not know that, he said, but asserted that they acted within the scope of the law and were respectful to the two men. “They were put in an untenable position,” said Ross, who apologized to the men and announced the department had drawn up new guidelines on handling future calls. He did not identify the officers.
  • Still angered by Ross’ initial response to the arrests, dozens of people on protested outside police headquarters and marched to City Hall, chanting, “Police Department, you can’t hide, we can see your dirty side.” One protester said Ross “showed his true colors” when he defended the officers.
  • The two men spoke publicly, taking their stories nationally by giving interviews to both the Associated Press and ABC’s Good Morning America. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, friends since elementary school, are hoping it won’t happen again. Robinson noted that he’s not sure why he was arrested. Nelson said he looks at the incident as a “stepping stone” for change. “I want to make sure that … this situation doesn’t happen again,” Robinson said on GMA. “So what I want is for a young man or young men to not be traumatized by this and instead motivated, inspired.”

Wednesday, April 18

  • Executive Chairman Howard Schultz appeared on CBS This Morning, saying he was both “ashamed” and “embarrassed.”
  • POWER, an interfaith group, announced a rally and march for police accountability to be held Thursday, partially in response to Police Commissioner Richard Ross’ comments that the arresting officers acted properly.
  • Inquirer and Daily News reporters spoke to Rashon Nelson’s neighbors in Southwest Philly. Those who know Nelson portrayed the former Bloomsburg University fraternity brother and father in favorable light. “Rashon is a good kid, he’s a good father, and he’s not a thug,” said John Gossett, 48.

Tuesday, April 17

  • Starbucks announced it would close all of its U.S. stores for the afternoon of May 29 while its employees undergo “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.
  • The Philadelphia Police Department released recordings of the original 20-second 911 call  from Starbucks and radio traffic between officers who responded and dispatchers. In the 911 call, a woman said there were “two gentlemen” in the “cafe who are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” In the subsequent radio traffic, a man reported a “group of males” was “causing a disturbance” before calling for backup and a supervisor.
  • The police incident report, obtained Tuesday by the Inquirer and Daily News, notes that the two men cursed at the store manager and refused to leave even though officers asked “multiple times.” It also accused the men of insulting police by saying, “Cops don’t know the laws,” and “Y’all make 45G a year,” remarks to which Police Commissioner Richard Ross alluded in his explanation of the events, released in a Facebook video Saturday.

Monday, April 16

Sunday, April 15

  • Black Lives Matter protester Asa Khalif led a protest at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets where many demanded the firing of the employee who called police. About 75 people attended. “I know the question has come up in terms of whether or not the manager should be fired, and we take full responsibility,” Starbucks regional vice president Camille Hymes said. “We put her in a position that did not allow her to be set up for success – or those two men.”
  • A photo of Khalif armed with a bullhorn inside of the store, taken by Inquirer photographer Michael Bryant, would later be widely used on Twitter as a meme.

Friday, April 13 – Saturday, April 14

  • National outrage over the viral video began to mount. Many took to social media to call the incident racist, while the hashtags @boycottStarbucks and #StarbucksWhileBlack become widely used.
  • Police Commissioner Richard Ross took to Facebook to stress that the arresting officers did nothing wrong. Later that night, CEO Kevin Johnson penned a letter to the company’s “partners and customers,” noting that the “disheartening situation” “led to a reprehensible outcome.”
  • “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,” Mayor Kenney said in his own statement. “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.”
  • Police and the company began separate investigations.

Thursday, April 12

  • Twitter user Melissa DePino posted the video of the two men being taken away in handcuffs. “@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything,” she wrote. “They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.””