Last week, 8,000 Starbucks locations closed as 175,000 employees underwent racial bias training after a Philadelphia store manager called the cops when two black customers, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, didn’t order anything and sat and waited for an acquaintance. Police came and arrested the two men.
As egregious as the whole situation was, Starbucks’ Philadelphia fiasco ended reasonably well. No charges were filed against the two men. They were released. They didn’t have to post a bond. But the same is not true for the 29,581 people in the United States who get arrested every day. Many of those people are guilty, yet many of them, like the men at Starbucks, have done nothing illegal. And those people — whose arrests likely end in more different ways than the two men in Philadelphia because there isn’t always an interested citizen with a smartphone to record the events and make it go viral on social media — are likely to be convicted.
Conviction rates for federal courts have been as high as 93 percent. For state courts, the government wins anywhere between 66 percent and 80 percent of the time. As many as 70 percent of those convictions result in incarceration. And when the criminal justice system releases them, it leaves a mark, legal stigmata that excludes them from a host of life opportunities: licensing, housing, even admission to the White House after you’ve been invited. Approximately 70 million people in the United States have some sort of criminal record – approximately one in three adults.
The biggest hurdle faced by these people – people like me – is that they can’t get jobs. A study from the Center for American Progress stated 60 percent of the 650,000 people who leave correctional custody were still unemployed a year after their release. Men with criminal records account for over one-third of all nonworking men ages 25 to 54. Sacrificing a day’s profits in order to provide racial sensitivity training to employees may seem like public service, but let’s not forget that Starbucks was serving itself a fresh pot of self-preservation.
We don’t know the full details of the coffee giant’s settlement with Robinson and Nelson, but at least part of Starbucks’ racial bias training is to prevent future claims of discrimination against a company that made $5.7 billion last year. The best way for Starbucks to atone for what its employees did is to hire more people with criminal records.
Creating one new job specifically reserved for people with justice involvement for every store that closed last week would prove that Starbucks understands the impact of racism and how damaging interaction with the justice system can be. Eight thousand jobs earmarked for people who face the indelible stigma of criminal convictions would actually start to make things right for people other than Starbucks employees and investors.
Three years ago, Starbucks made public declarations of the company’s love for second chances. Then-CEO Howard Schultz wrote a letter to Sen. Cory Booker outlining the coffee company’s commitment to hiring ex-offenders. Starbucks signed President Barack Obama’s Fair Chance Hiring Pledge – a call to action for private businesses to hire more people with criminal records. But words aren’t deeds and making the pledge is different from fulfilling it. Two other companies that made the same presidential pledge as Starbucks – Target and Uber – haven’t lived up to their promises.
The fact that Starbucks doesn’t have a felony conviction checkbox on its employment application doesn’t get it off the hook. Indeed, research has shown that when hiring managers have not known an applicant’s criminal history, they try to cull out people of color, assuming they are more likely to have records.
We can’t rest responsibility for structural racism and overreliance on police on Starbucks’ shoulders alone; the Philadelphia incident was a result of centuries of policing and excluding black bodies throughout the country. However, if closing 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,” as CEO Kevin Johnson said, then the second step is making sure that marginalized people are welcomed into not just coffee shops but the economy as well.
By giving 8,000 ex-offenders jobs, Starbucks can lead the way in battling racism’s effect on society at large.
Chandra Bozelko is a formerly incarcerated writer. Her blog, “Prison Diaries,” won the 2018 People’s Voice Webby Award for best personal blog.