Kevin Johnson
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson (Courtesy photo)
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson’s white privilege shone brightly in his apology over the weekend after two Black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks.

According to Johnson, “Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did.” It is unclear then why the manager, who is white, called the police if she didn’t want the men arrested.

Perhaps Johnson is saying the manager assumed the men would not be arrested, because if the men were white, as are Johnson and the manager, it is less likely they would have been arrested. Studies in multiple cities have shown that Black people are more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses, including trespassing, than white people. In Minneapolis, Black people are 8.7 times as likely as white people to be arrested for a low-level offense. In New York City, Blacks and Latinos collectively make up 54 percent of the population — but constitute more than 90 percent of those arrested for trespassing. And in Jersey City, N.J., Black people are close to 10 times more likely than white people for low-level offenses.

The men, who have not yet been publicly identified, were arrested while waiting to meet someone for a business meeting.

The two men arrived at the Starbucks location in Philly last week to meet with Andrew Yaffe. The men were reportedly waiting for Yaffe to arrive before ordering drinks. They asked to go to the bathroom but an employee refused their request, telling them they had to order first. The men sat down. They were asked to leave but refused, at which time the police were called.

A witness recorded part of the incident, which has been viewed nearly 10 million times.

In the video, Yaffe is asking officers what the men did wrong.

“This is ridiculous,” he says several times. “What did [the police] get called for? ‘Cause there are two Black guys sitting here meeting me?”

“Well, what did they do? What did they do?”

A woman off-camera is heard saying, “They didn’t do anything. I saw the entire thing.”

Yaffe at one point says it is “absolutely discrimination” and asks other patrons if they think the episode is ridiculous. Witnesses appear to agree.

The men were taken out in handcuffs, photographed, fingerprinted and held for eight hours, according to their attorney. They were taken on the suspicion of trespassing but no charges were filed.

The company said it will reexamine its practices but did not say if any employees will be disciplined.

Starbucks came under fire several years ago when baristas started writing “Race Together” on their coffee cups. The intention was to start a dialogue about racial issues spreading nationwide. However, the move was highly criticized as a publicity stunt. Since the “Race Together” catastrophe, the company added Rosalind Brewer, a Black woman, to its ranks as chief operating officer and group president.

But a look at the company’s leadership team still shows a lack of diversity. Roughly one-fifth of its members are ethnically diverse, and it is two-thirds male.

Despite its public pledges, several documented incidents showing the coffee shop in a poor light have circulated social media in recent years. A few months ago a woman at a Starbucks in California was asked to leave after she complained that nearby patrons were speaking “Oriental.” The two students were speaking Korean. An employee told the woman that they are free to speak whatever language they want, to which the woman said that President Barack Obama once said that everyone who comes to America should speak English. She was later removed by police, according to reports.

In another incident, a woman in a wheelchair spilled a hot coffee on herself. When patrons asked employees for a rag to clean up the woman, they were told they cannot give rags to customers. The man recording said he went to his truck and got a rag to help clean the woman and that the incident had been going on for about 10 minutes, and there were still no employees offering to help.

At a Chicago Starbucks in June a man went on a racist tirade after someone spilled a cup of coffee on him. He called one Black man a slave and spit on another, telling him his children are “disposable vermin.” He was charged with counts of aggravated battery and committing a hate crime.

Starbucks and Gentrification

A 2015 study published in Quartz by Spencer Bascoff, CEO of Zillow, and Stan Humphries, the company’s chief economist, found an interesting correlation between Starbucks and gentrification. After a Starbucks is built, property values in the surrounding location go up. According to the study:

What does that look like in practice? Let’s look at the historical home value appreciation of areas that now are located within a quarter mile of a Starbucks. A home that is now near a Starbucks would have sold, on average, for $137,000. A home that is not near a Starbucks would have sold, on average, for $102,000.

Fast-forward 17 years to 2014. That average American home has now appreciated 65%, to $168,000. But the Starbucks-adjacent property has far outpaced that, appreciating 96% to $269,000.

The study tested its theory with Dunkin’ Donuts and found that while property values also rose after one was built, it was not to the same degree as when Starbucks was thrown in the mix.

Homes directly adjacent to the coffee shop became even more expensive:

“Those houses closest to Starbucks appreciated a little more than 21% over five years, while the houses slightly farther away only appreciated just less than 17%. So, yes, some of the difference is related to the location itself, but there’s still a healthy difference attributable to the arrival of a Starbucks.”

And the location choices are very intentional, employees told the men:

“The Starbucks team explained that while they have 20 or so analytics experts around the world poring over maps and geographic information systems data—assessing factors like an area’s traffic patterns and businesses—the company also empowers dozens of regional teams to come to their own conclusions about location, store design, and a host of other issues.”

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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