Last Thursday at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, two black men were arrested for doing what countless others do at the coffee chain every day. As the men sat and waited for a friend to arrive without ordering anything, the manager on duty called the police, leading to the men being handcuffed and removed from the store for trespassing — an outrageous charge from a business that has staked its identity on being a “third place” where people frequently camp out with their laptops for hours to take advantage of free wifi and public restrooms.
The public outcry in response to the incident was swift and fierce, with numerous high-profile public figures speaking out. While many are vowing to boycott the coffee giant and encouraging others to do so as well — saying that the incident reveals racist policies at the chain — some say Starbucks as a whole shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of one employee, pointing to the chain’s relatively progressive policies on issues like equal pay and tuition reimbursement.
Here now, a look at social media reactions to the Starbucks arrest debacle.
Prominent celebrities and public figures including musician Questlove, actor Wendell Pierce (best known for The Wire), MSNBC host Joy Ann Reid, and former NAACP president Cornell Brooks pointed to the Starbucks incident as simply the latest example of pervasive racism in America:
Knock on a neighbor’s door get shot at for being Black. Then walk into a Starbucks and get arrested for being Black. I get tired of my White colleagues asking about racism in our lives when it’s so clearly on display. https://t.co/fUSfQF1mdF— Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) April 14, 2018
How revealing that a @Starbucks employee, who works in a place where people spend hours sitting around using the wifi and tapping away on their laptops with or without coffee, gets alarmed enough to call the cops just because black men enter the space and don’t order right away. https://t.co/pdzXYfMc09— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) April 14, 2018
“Loitering w/o a Latte” is not real crime but apparently a racial offense for which one can be arrested. Loitering & vagrancy laws were used since Reconstruction to fuel an earlier era of #massincarceration, the convict leasing system or “Slavery By Another Name.“ This is 2018. https://t.co/pBqdzXtiSV— Cornell Wm. Brooks (@CornellWBrooks) April 14, 2018
Most interesting line from @Starbucks CEO "Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested..". Would be interesting to hear what he/she thought would happen once police were called on 2 black men. https://t.co/YkUuykIK46— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) April 15, 2018
Comedian Kevin Hart says the company doesn’t deserve to be boycotted for the actions of one employee:
Let's make one thing very clear....This is not a boycott @Starbucks situation....This is horrible management. The manager on duty was wrong. It's that simple...That's who needs to take responsibility for this wrong doing.— Kevin Hart (@KevinHart4real) April 15, 2018
Many, including Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson, took issue with Starbucks’ initial response, in which the chain said “We... clearly have more work to do when it comes to how we handle incidents in our stores”:
Is “incidents” the new code for racial profiling? https://t.co/cuNdwBRsDl— deray (@deray) April 14, 2018
Some are encouraging Starbucks to financially compensate the men who were arrested, as well as demanding that the manager who called the police be fired:
1. Fire the worker who called the police.— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) April 14, 2018
2. Pay those black men millions of dollars for what you’ve done to them.
3. Screw you.
1. Is the employee who called police being held accountable?— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) April 14, 2018
2. Is @Starbucks doing anything substantive to make amends to the two people who were arrested?
3. Will @Starbucks use its platform/resources to encourage systemic change in policing? https://t.co/pKKG6Q98cC
Rapper T.I. called for a boycott:
Then there were the inevitable comedic takes: Comedian George Wallace couldn’t resist the opportunity for a coffee-themed pun, nor could many of his followers.
Starbucks apologized but is it too latte?— George Wallace (@MrGeorgeWallace) April 15, 2018
People need more time to vente.— WABishop (@WmAveryBishop) April 15, 2018
Yeah but they don’t give a frap, really— Joey Zee (@SarzRevolution) April 15, 2018
They were caught between a rock and a Pike Place.— Jody M Lopez (@lopez_jody) April 15, 2018
Dennis Miller chimed in with a wisecrack of his own:
In the future you are no longer allowed to order your coffee “Black” at Starbucks but rather you must stipulate “Without Dairy.”— Dennis Miller (@DennisDMZ) April 16, 2018
Meanwhile the location’s Yelp page has been flooded with negative reviews, bringing its average rating down to one star:
Starbucks’ Facebook page is also being bombarded with posts from customers disappointed in the company’s response and vowing to boycott: