In April, two black men were arrested and led out of a Philadelphia Starbucks for absolutely no reason.
On April 12, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson arrived at the coffee shop a few minutes before a business meeting. Nelson asked to use the bathroom but was denied because he hadn’t bought anything. He returned to the table where he and Robinson were waiting for their associate. They were approached, The Washington Post reports, by the white manager only moments later. Her message: Buy something.
By now you probably know what happened next: Unsatisfied with whatever answer she was given, the manager called 911 and asked for help. Two men, she told the dispatcher, were refusing to buy something or leave. Nelson and Robinson were handcuffed and escorted out of the cafe by policemen. Then, they were taken to jail.
A recording of the arrest instantly went viral, with the public responding in outrage to both the manager’s actions (how many of us have sat in Starbucks for hours without ordering so much as a water?) and the police’s response.
@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing. pic.twitter.com/0U4Pzs55Ci
The pair recollected the traumatic incident on ABC news:
Nelson and Robinson have now reached a settlement with the city. It’s a study in healing, forgiveness, and inspiration.
Though the two men could have sued Philadelphia — especially after both the mayor and the police commissioner admitted that the situation hadn’t been handled correctly — they agreed to a settlement no one expected. Each man accepted a symbolic $1 from the city. In addition, The Washington Post reports, they’ve asked Philadelphia to fund a $200,000 grant to support area high school students with entrepreneurial dreams. According to ABC News, the mens’ arrest records will be expunged. Starbucks, for their part, will pay for Nelson and Robinson’s college education as part of a mostly undisclosed financial settlement. The pair will meet with former Attorney General Eric Holder, who’s assisting Starbucks in creating a training on racial bias.
The injustice was horrific. For many it brought two things into stark relief for the first time.
One: Racial bias and discrimination happen on a moment-to-moment basis in America.
While some still argue that Nelson and Robinson must have done something wrong in order to have been escorted out by police (just check the comments on any news story about their arrest), the reality is the only thing the two men were guilty of was being on the wrong end of someone’s prejudice. And that kind of prejudice makes what happened to Nelson and Robinson an everyday occurrence.
Shortly after the Nelson and Robinson’s story blew up, a piece in The New York Times detailed the many incidents of racial bias that had occurred in the Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia — where the men had been arrested.
“Although black people account for just 3% of the residents in that police subdistrict, they made up two-thirds of the people stopped by the police in the first half of 2017, according to figures collected by the American Civil Liberties Union,” The Times reported.
Protestors at a Philadelphia Starbucks rally against the discrimination of Nelson and Robinson. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images.
Two: We must all work to end this type of commonplace oppression.
“What Starbucks is doing shows an understanding that to dismiss one employee as a crazy racist is to ignore the context in which that individual learns beliefs, pushes them on others, and abuses power. Using this as a teachable moment company-wide also sets an example,” author Sara Benincasa wrote in a tweet.
Nelson and Robinson’s hope? That something positive comes from such a terrible incident.
“We thought long and hard about it, and we feel like this is the best way to see that change that we want to see,” Robinson, said of the settlement. “It’s not a right-now thing that’s good for right now, but I feel like we will see the true change over time.”