November 14, 2018 | ° F

SINGH: Starbucks incident shows current lack of social inequality


Opinions Column: Got Rights?


Picture this. The year is 2018. Barack Obama, a Black man, was our last president. The Black Lives Matter movement is bigger than before. And the simple idea of racism is deemed antiquated and socially inappropriate. And yet it still exists. In fact, you do not need to close your eyes to imagine this. Simply open your eyes and observe the everyday interactions around you, because racial prejudice is still very much alive regardless of the progressive steps taken to attempt its abolishment.

On April 12, two Black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. The men were at the cafe waiting for a meeting with a real estate developer for potential business but wanted to use the bathroom without the purchase of a store item. The store manager saw them and told them to leave but they refused, so the manager called 911 for assistance. At least six police officers showed up and asked the men to go elsewhere. By this time, the other customers realized something was amiss and began recording the events, thus providing footage of the altercation. In the video, the customers are heard telling the officers that the men have done nothing wrong and are victims of the store’s and police’s discrimination but the officers paid no mind to these comments. One of the customers advises the men to leave, as it was becoming apparent that the police were being unfair. The officers said it was too late since the men did not comply the first time the officers told them to move and said they are no longer “free people” and instead they moved the chairs aside and told the men that they were under arrest. The men, who are not identified, were then taken to the police station to be photographed and fingerprinted and were in fact kept there for 8 hours before they were let go as the district attorney could find no evidence of an actual felony. 

The video of the men getting arrested has sparked a lot of fierce criticism of the Starbucks franchise with many attempting to boycott the chain completely. Due to the backlash, the Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, publicly apologized three times for the actions of his employees as he said that they are not reflective of the store’s ideology. He plans on flying from Seattle to Philly to personally apologize to the men, requesting for a face-to-face meeting with the men who have agreed to it. Protests are still taking place outside the location of the incident and this may be the reason why Johnson publicly apologized immediately.

Many people use the restrooms at stores regardless of a made purchase or not. In Philly, there are high rates of homeless people and they use the restrooms a lot without even having intentions of making a purchase, and yet are not called out for doing so. All I can do is applaud the wrongly accused men of their courage and conviction for standing up for themselves — praise them for challenging the ideas set in place by an unfair system. I am impressed with the poise both of them showed in the situation as many people of color fear the police, and it is not hard to when police are supposed to be there for the people, protecting them from crimes and violence. It is easy to forget that they are supposed to be the "good guys" that reinforce rules and regulations. This ideology has been challenged a lot recently due to recent instances of unfair police treatment and Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Jordan Edwards are only a few of the many victims of this mistreatment. Being a person of color (POC), it is hard hearing about your people being killed, being discriminated against, being marginalized again and again. Thus I have to commend the men at Starbucks for putting their fears, racing heartbeats and ringing alarm bells aside to calmly stand up to the discrimination they were facing. They did not resist arrest and completely complied with the officers at the police station even though they were publicly humiliated.  

This incident was very eye opening because it not only showed systematic oppression through the actions of the store manager and the police but also showed the support the customers had for the wrongly-accused men. Several customers spoke up for the men and many protested outside the store, showing that people today recognize the mistreatments faced by POC and are making efforts to right the wrongs. Incidents like this are tragic but can be prevented by being aware and accepting the concept of social equality and taking action to address the inequalities.

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Got Rights?", runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Harleen Singh

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