The Starbucks Issue

This issue is getting national news coverage and I figured, if anyone cares, they can listen to the light I will shed on the subject.

For those unfamiliar with it, two black men were inside of a Starbucks in Philadelphia and they had not purchased anything but were loitering in the business, saying they were waiting for a friend and wanted to use the washroom. This particular Starbucks has a rule that washrooms are for paying customers only. Seeing as neither of the men purchased anything, they were asked to leave by the Starbucks staff. The men refused and the police were called.

When police arrived, they repeatedly asked the men to leave and the men refused. The men were then placed under arrest for trespassing as the Starbucks staff wanted the men to leave. The police did their job. They did nothing wrong. Meanwhile, patrons and anyone else who got wind of the incident started spouting that racism and bigotry were perpetrated by the officers and it’s just another incident of “being arrested for being black.” However, there’s more to it.

When someone is trespassing at a business or a location that is privately or publicly owned, the owner or operator of that business/location can have someone removed claiming they are trespassing. If that owner or operator wishes to sign complaints, the subject involved can be arrested and charged, or cited and released, depending on the situation. Typically, when someone outright refuses to leave, they get arrested as they cannot be left to remain in the location. Starbucks staff said these individuals were trespassing and police arrested the men on that premise, which can happen to anyone regardless of race.

Unfortunately, the Starbucks staff decided to renege on their original complaint and after the men were arrested and transported, the Starbucks staff changed their mind and didn’t want to sign complaints. Since at that point there was no complainant anymore, the men were released without charges. So no, the police were not being racist, the police were removing subjects whom a complainant wanted to be removed from their establishment. It’s not the Philadelphia Police’s fault the Starbucks wanted them there in the first place and it certainly wasn’t their fault that the employee later backed out of signing complaints.

There’s always more to the story. With everything on camera now you simply cannot, as an officer, arrest someone just because they’re black, they pissed you off, or they called ya mom a hoe. The arrest will be found false and a civil case will eventually ensue because everyone, right or wrong, sues the police. I’m not claiming these things don’t happen. Just go to YouTube. There are a plethora of videos where officers arrest someone for no reason (really, no reason) and those led to the dismissal of the officer, suspension from duty, or other disciplinary actions. Officers are not in the right 100% of the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re in the wrong most of the time either.

In this case, the police were doing their job. Maybe the original call was because of the race of the individuals, but the police didn’t make the call, Starbucks did. And when police arrived and the men still refused to leave, given at the time they had a complainant, the arrest was justified. Once the complainant backed out of signing complaints (even though it was long after the fact), in this particular case, probable cause to arrest disappeared. To the two men’s credit, they didn’t physically fight with officers but peacefully refused to leave so there were no additional charges to be filed that I know of.

Now, we see that Starbucks is experiencing the fallout of this incident and their CEO has made a public apology and has agreed to meet with the two men involved. Starbucks has already admitted fault and protests are forming in front of the massive chain. The police also get the short end because claims of racism run rampant in headlines, but that’s to be expected. Despite the diversity among officers, once they get their badge they’re stamped as bigots in the eyes of the media (despite the irony of the prejudiced stamp). At least for the two men involved, I can see free Starbucks for life in their future.

I think the community at large could benefit from understanding what it is police are allowed to do, their duties and how they go about them, as well as the criminal justice process involved with affecting arrests and handling complaints. A lot of uninformed protests could be avoided if more citizens took the time to learn what police are allowed to do. Citizens Police Academy classes are offered by a lot of departments and there is a lot of useful information to be learned by the public. The dynamic should not be the police vs. the community, it should be the police and the community working together.

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