OPED: Boycott Starbucks to fight racist policies

Solomon Jones
Tribune News Service

I'm glad Starbucks is closing all its U.S. stores on May 29 for racial bias training after a Philadelphia store manager called the police to eject two black customers who hadn't yet made a purchase and tried to use the bathroom without purchasing anything.

More:Starbucks to close stores for bias training

Unfortunately, that racial bias training is not enough. I join activists from Black Lives Matter and the NAACP in calling for confirmation that the manager who called police has been fired from the company, not just moved to another store. I also join them in calling for an increased number of black and brown managers at Starbucks. Until those things take place, in addition to company-wide racial bias training, Starbucks must be boycotted.

And we must not stop at the store on the corner of 18th and Spruce streets, where the incident took place. We must commit to boycotting all of them.

They must be boycotted because the company has admitted that in barring those men from the bathroom, their manager followed Starbucks procedures. They must be boycotted because those men behaved no differently than other Starbucks customers. But perhaps most importantly, Starbucks must be boycotted because the manager failed to consider the volumes of evidence indicating that contacting police could prove fatal where black men are concerned.

"When you call the cops on black and brown people you put us all in jeopardy," Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania told me in a radio interview. "You put us in jeopardy because we're not safe with the police, especially here in Philadelphia. We're not. When the police encounter black people, it ends up in arrest most of the time, or even death. And so we just have to realize, as black people, that we are in a white supremacist system of violence and the main perpetrators are the police. And that's just the way it is. We have to call it for what it is."

Niani Marz protests inside Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets on Monday, April 16, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pa. Protestors were inside Starbucks protesting the arrest of two African-American males from the coffee shop last week after an employee called police. (Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

I wish Khalif was engaging in hyperbole, but he wasn't. Newsweek reported that blacks comprised 25 percent of the 1,129 people killed by police in 2017, though blacks are only 13 percent of the population.

Thankfully, the Starbucks situation did not escalate to that point, and police say they acted appropriately. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is black, issued a Facebook Live statement shortly after video of the men's arrests went viral. Ross said his officers were polite and professional, making several attempts to escort the men out without arresting them. Ultimately, the men were arrested for trespassing, Ross said, adding that his officers did absolutely nothing wrong.

I disagree with that assessment, and so do many others in the black community and beyond.

"I truly respect Commissioner Ross because he's a great cop and an even greater man," said African American lawyer and activist Michael Coard. "But his argument that the officers did 'absolutely nothing wrong' is absolutely frightening because it's the same kind of argument Nazis used in their 'we were just following orders' Nuremberg defense, which was summarily rejected by the international court. And his argument that those black men committed the crime of trespass is absolute bull–t. Jaywalking is a crime. Spitting on the sidewalk is a crime. Being drunk in public is a crime. But cops show discretion by never arresting anyone for those crimes. By the way, Mayor Kenney was right about people often simply chilling out in Starbucks without buying anything. But they never get arrested. Oh, my bad. Those people are white."

Black people aren't the only ones who feel that way. As camera phones and viral videos have made it impossible to ignore racism, many whites have begun to change their perspective.

More:Protesters at Starbucks chant company is ‘anti-black’

Toni Bowers, a white woman who joined a Sunday protest outside the Starbucks where the incident took place, is among them.

"Like a lot of people my age I grew up thinking that the policeman was my friend and all that, and I was already over 50," Bowers told me while protesting. "And Michael Brown was killed and our family was on vacation, and we just gave up the vacation and sat on the floor around the TV in the hotel room and couldn't believe what we saw ... We can't continue to say, 'Oh was that person aggressive? Oh, this was a bad cop.' This is a system, and I think white people are finally seeing that a system is in place."

It is a system that must be challenged, Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, told me in an interview, adding that boycott is the most viable tool for doing so.

I agree. That's why, until Starbucks commits to treating my brothers like whole persons, I will boycott every one of their stores. Americans of good conscience should do the same.