By now, most of the civilized world knows about an incident in Philadelphia where a couple of guys walked into a Starbucks and sat down without ordering. They decided to wait for a friend to join them before they did so. In the meantime, a store manager got nervous and called the police who were most assuredly not patient about getting to the bottom of why these guys were in the place. Simply, the police didn’t believe the story.
And it was all caught on a cell phone video.
This unfortunate incident, and it is unfortunate as the two men were judged by their skin when they were doing absolutely nothing wrong, has reignited the discussion on race and sent it hurtling to new heights of hysteria in some quarters. The reality out there is that the vast majority of African-Americans in this country aren’t all that different from everyone else. Our cultures and temporal values are a bit different, but most blacks are just as law abiding as everyone else. The portion of the black population that is not law-abiding, though, truly, unfortunately, commits the majority of crime in this country.
That is a reality that cannot be escaped, and most likely a contributing factor to the assumptions made by both the Starbucks manager in question, and the police who were impatient about waiting for their friend to arrive. And it is also the reason that the CEO of Starbucks is bending over backward to apologize to the two men who were wrongfully singled out and accused.
In the coming days, I will be joining our regional vice president, Camille Hymes—who is on the ground in Philadelphia—to speak with partners, customers and community leaders as well as law enforcement. Most importantly, I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology.
This is textbook crisis public relations, and for Starbucks’ brand, it must be done. But, when it comes to judging others, where does this stop? Incident after incident of innocent people being judged by their skin color and accused of something they have not done and do not intend when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time are reported on a regular basis. This is not right.
The question of how to fix it, though, is not an easy one to answer.