The Starbucks Controversy: What Really Happened?
I was getting a haircut the other day and my barber brings something to my attention.
“Hey, did you hear about the two black guys who were arrested for no reason in Starbucks?”
“What? That’s crazy. What did they do that caused the police to get involved?”
“Apparently they were just sitting there without buying anything and the employees called the police. It’s been blowing up all over the news. I don’t think people should be getting arrested for loitering somewhere without buying something. The police are just abusing their authority at this point. It probably didn’t help that they were black. Probably racist cops.”
The story sounded a little too absurd for me to believe. I didn’t believe that people would blatantly think they’d get away with this seemingly racist act. I started poking holes into the story, because I didn’t think he was trying to perceive the whole picture.
“Did they refuse to leave or something? Why would they just get arrested for no reason? There’s no way they would just arrest them because of their skin color. They know what would happen if they tried to get away with that sort of thing in this day and age.”
“Well I don’t know. I just heard it on the news and the story just sounded crazy to me. It’s all because of Trump. He’s been enabling all this racism and allowing people to attempt these things.”
I stayed silent. I never liked to fully accept the story from one side, because I know that usually when something controversial like this Starbucks fiasco happens, it is never straightforward and one-sided.
We tend to get outraged at events like this because it tells a one-sided story. We are not shown the complete picture.
We are given all the evidence to support a narrative on one side. The side that makes the offending party look as absurd and unreasonable as possible.
Is Starbucks a Racist Organization?
I will try my best to be as objective as possible. I don’t want to jump to a conclusion. I don’t want to immediately blame racism for this incident.
Maybe it could be. Or maybe we are simply missing some crucial facts that could help us complete the whole story and reduce the outrage.
What we are told:
- The two black men came into Starbucks, did not purchase anything (as many of us do from time to time) and were waiting for a friend to join them. A Starbucks employee asked them to leave if they were not buying anything, so that other potential customers would be able to sit down if they wanted to.
- It was reported that they refused to leave the premise. Only the parties involved and spectators could see if it was a civil exchange or not. We can assume that it had escalated throughout the exchange to the point where an employee felt that he needed to bring in the police, because the employee had exercised his authority as a worker and they refused to follow the rules of the private enterprise.
- From reading various sources of news, they spun the story to make it seem like the police waltzed into the store and, after a confrontation, were arrested unfairly when they had done nothing wrong. They were arrested because of their race, and the police and employee were being racists.
the video that went viral over the weekend showing the two black men being arrested by police who were called by an employee. Officials have said police officers were told the men had asked to use the store’s restroom but were denied because they hadn’t bought anything and they refused to leave.
- In the video, we can hear people protesting against the arrest of the two men. We don’t know how much they know about the current situation. For all we know, they could have been patrons who had just walked in and seen only the confrontation. We don’t know how credible these eye witnesses are.
- What we are given is simply a video that starts with the men being arrested, and given no context of what had happened prior to this event. Social media helps to inflate the issue, because many people pick this video up and share it immediately without looking for the whole story to come out.
From the facts we were given, we can deduce a more accurate depiction of the incident:
- The two men walked into Starbucks and sat down at a table. They did not purchase anything and were presumably waiting for an acquaintance.
- The two men were denied use of the bathroom because they had not purchased anything.
- Starbucks employees have a policy to not give the bathroom code to a non-customer. This is probably to maximize profit and avoid backing up the bathroom for actual patrons. If people could just walk in and use their bathroom without paying for an item, Starbucks would be part cafe, part public restroom. They are a private company, which means they can have any rules they want for how they run the business. If they want you to leave the premises, you should follow their instructions or they are able to call the police and they can exercise their authority on you if you still refuse to leave.
- The manager attempted to exercise his authority as a manager to kick out the non-customers so that other customers could have a place to sit and enjoy their pastries and coffee. The men refused to leave the premise. We do not know if this was a civil exchange. We do not know if the manager approached them with hostility or tried to ask them nicely. We do not know if the manager was met with hostility or indifference. What we can assume is that the situation escalated to the point where an agreement was no longer an option.
- The manager believed that they could not properly exercise their authority and called the police. They decided the problem was out of their hands and now they needed to bring in the police.
- The two men, still refusing to leave the premises, are still in the store when the police arrive. They ask the men to leave. The police commissioner in a later interview says that the officers asked the men to leave three times, and all requests were refused. They believe they have no choice but to have them forcibly removed for refusal to obey police officer and trespassing on private property.
Verdict: Starbucks is Not a Racist Organization
One thing that makes me understand the outrage is the fact that many people (who are not black) do go to Starbucks and loiter there without buying anything. On most occasions, they are not asked to leave. They are allowed to stay with their laptops and sometimes stay there for long periods of time, not allowing potential customers to have a seat to enjoy their pastries or coffee.
The incident also sparked more outrage because other people (who were not black) who did not buy an item were given access while these two black men were not. You can argue that Starbucks giving the bathroom code away sometimes doesn’t hurt anyone.
Maybe the manager was being unreasonable and not allowing these specific gentlemen from getting the bathroom code. Maybe the manager was having a bad day or the store was busy and hectic. Maybe the manager believed that they should be more rigid with the bathroom code policy.
Maybe the police could have handled the situation better. Maybe the police could have talked with the men and clarified the situation.
Maybe the men could have bought something to get the manager off their backs and gain access to the bathroom. They could have gone somewhere else to use the bathroom. They could have left when the manager approached them. They could have left before the situation escalated to where the police got involved. They could have left when the police asked them to leave the premises.
There was a lot of misjudgment that happened, but I don’t think it was simply due to racism. I think there were a lot of factors and errors that contributed to this controversy blowing up.
I hate watching or reading the news because of the complexity of the situation. I don’t really see any malicious intent. However, I can understand why people can come to that conclusion based on the facts they were provided.
They saw a part of the picture, and believed that to be true. Only when the facts are all put on the table can we finally see the objective truth, but by then it is too late. Most people will refuse to take a second look.
We can’t rely on the news to give us the whole story when they are reported. They need time to investigate and learn the perspectives of both sides involved.
Being outraged about controversial issues is tiring and mentally exhausting. It also makes you perceive the world as more troublesome than it has to be. Sure the world is full of problems, but our lives are already packed full of them as it is.
You don’t have to feel like you should be outraged by every controversial issue reported on the news. We have to be patient with the inflow of information, because the world is not as simple as it seems.
We can talk reasonably about the issues at hand. We shouldn’t try to hide facts or create a narrative based on incomplete data to prove our point. We should try to soak in everything that we know about each given situation, instead of casting a blanket of definitive words that stop conversation immediately.
If we don’t talk about these situations and try to see the bigger picture, society cannot move forward. There’s a lot of content out there that is chock full of fake news, hidden agendas or tampered photography.
We need to become independent investigators and be more critical of the news we take in. We need to think about the situation at hand and come to conclusions ourselves by crafting complete stories with all the facts we are given. We need to stop being so outraged all the time.
Before you go:
This man sums up the controversy extremely well and objectively. Don’t refuse to watch just because he has a Trump shirt on. He is a voice of reason in the midst of outrage and chaos.