Starbucks has announced that it will be closing 8,000 company-owned stores in the US for one afternoon, on May 29th in order to educate 175,000 of their employees about racial bias. The announcement comes after protests and commotion and calls for boycotts of the company over the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks on Thursday last week. The men, who had not made a purchase, asked to use the bathroom and were told the Starbucks had a policy that restrooms were for paying customers only. When they then sat down to wait for a friend without purchasing anything, they were asked to leave. When they refused to leave, the manager called the police. The two men were then arrested for trespassing, although no charges were ultimately filed against them.
Although, this isn't the first time Starbucks has closed, in 2008 the company closed for three hours just to teach their employees how to brew a "better" cup of coffee, the company in the past has dealt with navigating tough issues such as gun control, gay marriage and has even come under fire from conservatives for the design of its holiday cups.
Since the arrest of the two men, not only has the CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson visited Philadelphia and met with the men to offer his sincerest apologies at how they were treated, but the company confirmed Monday that the manager of the store involved in the incident is no longer with the company. In a statement announcing the training, CEO Kevin Johnson said, "I've spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it."
"While this is not limited to Starbucks, we're committed to being a part of the solution," Johnson continued. "Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities."
The company says the training curriculum will be developed with the help and guidance of people such as; Sherrilyn Ifill, the President and Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. Starbucks has also announced that the experts will also be reviewing the effectiveness of the training. Starbucks added that after next month’s training exercise to its 175,000 employees, the company will be making it's training materials available to other companies.
Whether you agree with how Starbucks is handling the issue or whether you think they're being ridiculous, one thing is for sure. Starbucks is pulling all the strings they can to make sure everyone knows how serious of an issue this is.
When I first saw this story, I was outraged. I was outraged that these men who were just waiting for a friend were arrested. Starbucks is no stranger to college kids on their computers studying, or just sitting on the couches reading a book. In fact, I have frequented Starbucks and sat there for an hour at least without ordering anything. If we are going to start arresting people for waiting in Starbucks for their friends, college students should start finding new places to study and grab a coffee.
Then I thought about it some more.
The men asked to use the bathroom, and they were informed that bathrooms were for paying customers. Now, I don't know if you've ever been out and about and suddenly had the urgent need to use a bathroom. I have. Usually you find a place and ask to use the bathroom, and they either have public restrooms or they have a policy that you can't use the bathroom unless you order something or buy something. It's a very common policy for businesses to have.
After the men asked to use the bathroom, they sat down and waited for a friend without ordering anything. They were asked to leave, and they refused.
Again, they were asked to order something or leave, after having asked to use the bathroom which was for paying customers. Only after they refused to leave, were the cops called. The cops then asked the men to leave, not once but three times. When they refused they were arrested for trespassing.
The men were given the option to buy something, leave or go to jail. They ultimately picked jail.
I think we all forget, while it may be great to spend four hours blogging on our laptops and sipping coffee, Starbucks is a place of business and not just a hangout place. If I were waiting in a Starbucks for an extended period of time and was told to purchase something or leave, I would comply with the policies of the business.
On the other side of the issue though, we should keep in mind that, if we are going to enforce policies that our businesses have in place, we need to enforce them for all people; regardless of religion, skin color, ethnicity, etc. Rules are rules and must be obeyed by everyone. Not just those we decide should comply.
There were apparently several other customers in the store who had either brought outside beverages, or who had not ordered anything. No action was taken against them.
Rules are rules. If we are going to enforce the rules, we need to enforce them for everyone and not just a select few.