By The Associated Press
Starbucks, moving swiftly to confront a racially charged uproar over the arrest of two Black men at one of its stores in Philadelphia, plans to close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for several hours next month to conduct racial-bias training for nearly 175,000 workers.
The announcement Tuesday comes after the arrests sparked protests and calls for a boycott on social media. A video shows police talking with two Black men seated at a table. After a few minutes, officers handcuff the men and lead them outside as other customers say they weren’t doing anything wrong. Philadelphia-area media said the two were waiting for a friend.
Philadelphia police released a recording of the call from the Starbucks employee that led to the arrests. In the recording, a woman is heard saying, “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” She gives the address of the Starbucks store, and the entire call lasts less than 30 seconds. In the communications between police and dispatch that were also released, someone refers to “a group of males inside causing a disturbance,” and additional officers are sent.
Starbucks, which was once ridiculed for urging its employees to write “Race Together” on coffee cups to start a national conversation on race relations, has found itself through the looking glass: under fire for its treatment of Black people.
The company reacted from a high level: Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson called the arrests “reprehensible” and said he wanted to apologize to the two men face-to-face. The company and a lawyer for the two men said they did meet, and Johnson delivered the apology. Starbucks also said the employee who called police no longer works at the store, but declined to give details.
Johnson also promised to revamp store management training to include “unconscious-bias” education. Starbucks said its U.S. company-owned stores and corporate offices will be closed on the afternoon of May 29 for the training, which will eventually be incorporated into the instruction process for all newly hired employees.
The episode highlights the risks large corporations run when they tie their brands so closely to social messaging. In 2015, then-CEO Howard Schultz shrugged off the “Race Together” fiasco as a well-intentioned mistake and pressed on with his public efforts to engage in the debate over race in America. Johnson was scrambling to keep the Philadelphia incident from shattering the message Schultz was going for: Starbucks is a corporation that stands for something beyond profit.
Starbucks said the curriculum for the training would be developed with input from several experts, including Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The company said the educational materials would eventually be shared with its licensed stores. In addition to the company-owned stores, Starbucks had as of January about 5,700 licensed stores in the United States, such as the ones inside Target and Barnes & Noble stores.