Two men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia on Thursday while they were waiting for a friend. They were asked to leave because they hadn't ordered anything, and after refusing, the police were called. Critics accused the store and police of discriminating and racial profiling the men, who are black. Now, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson wrote a letter apologizing to the men for what he says were actions "not representative" of Starbucks' values.
The end of the incident was caught on video and shared on Twitter, going viral. White customers argue with the police to say that the men hadn't done anything wrong, as the men are handcuffed.
Johnson decided to address the issue head-on in his letter, and he laid out exactly what Starbucks' position is on what he called a "disheartening situation" with a "reprehensible outcome":
First, to once again express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested with a goal of doing whatever we can to make things right. Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. And third, to reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.
In addition to writing the letter, Johnson said he would be going to Philadelphia to address the situation personally. "I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology," Johnson wrote.
"The video shot by customers is very hard to watch and the actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks Mission and Values," Johnson continued. "Creating an environment that is both safe and welcoming for everyone is paramount for every store."
He acknowledged that what the Starbucks store staff had done was a mistake. "Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome—the basis for the call to the Philadelphia police department was wrong," Johnson said, adding that the manager never intended for anyone to be arrested.
In addition to apologizing, Johnson laid out what Starbucks would do to prevent the situation from happening again. They will be implementing more training on when calling the police is called for and will have a company-wide meeting this week to address the situation. Johnson also said that outside experts would be consulted. "You can and should expect more from us. We will learn from this and be better," he wrote.
An attorney for the men, who have not been identified, told CBS News that the men were at Starbucks for less than 15 minutes when they were asked to leave. "The video, in this case, essentially speaks for itself," Lauren Wimmer, the men's lawyer, said. "These guys were doing what people do every day, they were having a meeting and they were undoubtedly singled out because of their race."
Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. did not apologize and said the officers had acted correctly. “These officers had legal standing to make this arrest,” Commissioner Ross said in a statement. “These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen — and instead they got the opposite back."
As for Starbucks' response, not everyone was convinced. "Unless the Starbucks CEO's apology includes paying for all legal fees & court costs, any lost income and some sort of personal settlement for lost dignity, it's just a PR move, IMHO," Rev. Dr. Michael Salamone wrote on Twitter.
Starbucks may have more work to do, but it is addressing what happened head on.