Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said on Good Morning America Monday that he would like to “personally apologize” to two black men who were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting to meet with a white businessman, though he declined to say outright that he believed it was a case of racial discrimination.
“First of all, I’ll say the circumstances surrounding the incident and outcome in our store on Thursday were reprehensible and wrong, and for that I personally apologize to the two gentleman who visited our store,” he told anchor Robin Roberts.
He said that different regions where Starbucks stores operate implement different guidelines for when to call police, and that’s part of what led to this case. He maintained that it was still “completely inappropriate” to get police involved.
“If there were threats or a disturbance, those might be appropriate times. In this case, none of that occurred. It was completely inappropriate to engage police,” he said. “What happened to those two gentleman was wrong.”
Roberts asked Johnson directly if he believed the incident was a case of racial discrimination or bias. Johnson replied that he knew the store had failed to provide a “warm” and welcoming atmosphere to all customers and that he would be looking at a wide picture.
“It is my responsibility to ensure that we review everything ... we review and invest in the training that is necessary. We will hold ourselves accountable.”
He added that he’d like to invite the two men, who have yet to speak publicly, to join him in “finding a constructive way to solve this issue” so that a similar incident does not happen to anyone else.
News of the two men’s arrest Thursday spread rapidly across the country after a viral video showing a portion of the incident was posted to Twitter.
In the video, one officer can be seen speaking to a white man while other officers quietly handcuff two black men in the background.“What did they do? What did they do?” the man asks. “They didn’t do anything I saw the entire thing,” an off-screen voice responds. One handcuffed man is then walked off-screen as an officer appears to continue securing cuffs on the other man.
Officers had arrived after receiving a 911 call from the store saying the men were trespassing, Police Commissioner Richard Ross said, according to the Associated Press. The men had allegedly asked to use the restroom but were denied because they had not bought anything, and had then refused to leave.
The two black had come to Starbucks to meet Andrew Yaffe, a real estate businessman who wanted to discuss investment opportunities, The Washington Post reported.
“Why would they be asked to leave?” Yaffe said, according to the Post. “Does anybody else think this is ridiculous? It’s absolute discrimination.”
Neither of the men were charged and were released from custody shortly after their arrest, AP reported.
“The video speaks for itself,” the men’s lawyer Lauren Wimmer said in a statement. “Two young black men, who were simply waiting to be joined by a friend, were blatantly discriminated against based on their race," she wrote. "Not only is this inexcusable. It's illegal.”
Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is black, posted a public video to Facebook where he defended his officers and said they “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
“As an African American male, I am very aware of implicit bias; we are committed to fair and unbiased policing,” Ross said. “If a business calls and they say that 'Someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business' (officers) now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties and they did just that.”
Starbucks posted an apology on its Twitter page Saturday which said the company was “disappointed this led to an arrest” and was reviewing policies to ensure a similar situation never happened again.
In a more lengthy statement, CEO Kevin Johnson wrote he expressed “deepest apologies” to the two arrested men and said there was a “goal of doing whatever we can to make things right.”
He also affirmed that Starbucks “stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling” and planned to “investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices.”
Johnson said training and practices “led to a bad outcome” and that the manager never intended for the men to be arrested or for the situation to escalate. Further training would include training partners to “better know when police assistance is warranted,” Johnson wrote.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he was “heartbroken” over the incident and called for the Commission on Human Relations to look into the Starbucks’ policies to determine if there was a need for bias training for its employees, according to the AP.