The arrest of two Black men who were merely sitting in a Rittenhouse Square-area Starbucks has triggered the city to consider probing its own employee policies.
City Council on Thursday authorized its Committee on Labor and Civil Service to hold hearings on the effectiveness of implicit-bias and racial-equity training for its employees.
Council’s authorization of the hearing on Thursday comes a week after Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested for sitting inside the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce streets. The arrest of the men, which was captured and shared widely on social media, sparked protests and led to an apology tour by the Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.
“Given the song we’ve been singing for the past 20 years, diversity and inclusion is still not well in the city of Philadelphia,” said Councilwoman At-Large Blondell Reynolds Brown on Thursday, who co-sponsored the resolution for the hearing.
The Starbucks arrests, added Reynolds Brown, provided the impetus to determine what the city is currently doing — or failing to do — when it comes to racial profiling and implicit bias. The potential hearing also will explore whether additional protocols should be put in place.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who co-sponsored the resolution, called the arrest of Nelson and Robinson an example of racial profiling. Although Johnson approved of Starbucks’ decision to close nearly 8,000 of its U.S. stores during the afternoon of May 29 for racial-bias training, he said, “It’s not enough.”
“The company has work to do here in the city of Philadelphia to regain trust of customers and restore the brand image it portrays as a welcoming environment for people to meet up and hang inside their establishments,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Starbucks must put in place clear policies in all of its stores so that the decision that resulted in last week’s arrests was not left of to the discretion of an individual employee.
The training for Starbucks employees in May will be designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, and prevent discrimination, among other things, the company has said.
The training will be given to nearly 175,000 Starbucks employees and to new hires.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who initially defended the officers involved in the arrests by saying they did “absolutely nothing wrong,” changed course Thursday by apologizing to Nelson and Robinson.
“I should have said the officers acted within the scope of the law, and not that they didn’t do anything wrong,” Ross said at a press conference Thursday, according to The Associated Press. “Words are very important.”
Ross said he “failed miserably” in how he responded to the arrests, according to the AP. He added that while the police department did not have a policy for dealing with tthose sorts of situations, it now does; the policy will be released soon.
While African Americans made up about 3 percent of the residents living in Rittenhouse Square, they made up 67 percent of the stops by police in that area during the first half of 2017, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Nelson and Robinson, speaking in an interview with AP, said they had met with the Starbucks CEO and were advocating that changes be put in place to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
In mediation proceedings with Starbucks, the two men are reportedly seeking the company post a customer bill of rights in stores; adopt new policies regarding customer ejections, racial profiling and racial discrimination; and conduct independent investigations of complaints of profiling or discrimination from customers and employees, according to AP.