Have you ever been in need of a bathroom and ran to a Starbucks toilet only to be told you can’t use it? The policy of forcing someone to buy something in order to use the restroom is nothing new and certainly not exclusive to Starbucks. After an incident that went viral, however, Starbucks has made a policy change.
Last month two black men were sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia while waiting for a third friend to show up. The purpose of the get together was to discuss a potential business venture. The incident that made news worldwide kicked off when one of the men, 23-year-old Rashon Nelson, went to use the bathroom. As per usual, the manager informed Nelson that he wasn’t allowed to use the restroom because he wasn’t a paying customer. Brushing it off, Nelson went back to his table and continued to mind his own business when a waiter came over and asked if the men needed help.
After they both declined, things took a turn for the dramatic. It turns out that the manager had called the police on Nelson and his childhood friend/business partner Donte Robinson. Three officers entered the cafe and proceeded to arrest the two men for trespassing. The two men did not resist arrest as they had a genuine fear for their lives, according to an interview with the Toronto Star.
The whole encounter was filmed on another customer’s phone and quickly went viral. The incident has sparked outrage across social media due to the growing trend of white Americans calling the police on black Americans for simply existing in a space. As you can imagine, the backlash was quick with the Philly store being the site of protests for being an example of “retail racism”. In recent months the U.S has seen an upsurge in both violent and non-violent racism due to high tensions in the country. This has ultimately led to hundreds of protests and backlash across a wide variety of public places like parks and restaurants.
The new policy was announced mere weeks after this incident, likely as a damage control measure and to ensure that this can no longer occur. The manager of the store was consequently let go by Starbucks. In a move to personally ensure this was nipped in the bud, the CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, flew to Philadelphia to meet with the two men. Not only did Nelson and Robinson settle with the company for an undisclosed amount, they also received free tuition to an online program provided to Starbucks employees as well as an apology from the Chief of Police, according to a CNN report.
In addition, the men also received a symbolic $1 each from the city of Philadelphia as well as a pledge to allocate $200,000 for entrepreneurship programs aimed at high school students. The two men have spoken out about the incident on Good Morning America since and have said that while they appreciate the public support, boycotts are not the answer. Instead, the men would like to see immediate and lasting changes and have since been in mediation with the company.
Along with the announcement of the new bathroom policy, Johnson has ordered the closure of over 8,000 to train over 175,000 employees on unconscious bias and the new policy on May 29. The positive takeaway from this situation is that Starbucks is actively trying to correct the problem from the inside instead of just issuing an apology and sweeping under the rug.