A standard that’s long overdue

Published 8:42 pm Friday, April 20, 2018

Two people walk into a Starbucks.

No, it’s not the beginning of a joke. In fact, it’s the beginning of an unbelievable situation that happened this week in Philadelphia.

So, two people went to Starbucks for a casual business meeting. The person they were meeting hadn’t yet arrived, so they decided to sit down and wait. They were asked if they needed anything by staff. They said no.

Then police officers arrived. The two people were told they were trespassing. Then they were handcuffed and led out of the building.

The question is, why?

Anyone who has ever been to a Starbucks has likely seen people camped out at a table, working on a laptop and probably nursing the same tall, non-fat latte with a caramel drizzle for three hours. There’s no question they’re taking up space, but their right to that space is never questioned.

Anyone who has ever gone out to meet a friend or a business acquaintance and gets there first, as a matter of courtesy might very well wait to order until the other person arrives. That’s just good manners.

If both of the above are true, then why were those two people removed from the coffee chain in handcuffs?

The reason: because those two people were black men — young black men, who sat down at a table, waiting for an acquaintance to arrive for a business meeting. Apparently, for the manager of Starbucks, for the officers who responded to her call, the act of doing so was a crime.

This is racism. It’s not the name-calling that so many people associate with the term. This racism is silent and far more damaging. It’s a silent threat born in suspicion, that questions those men’s right to occupy a space where no else is questioned; it is increased scrutiny of motives and actions; it is the humiliation of being handcuffed in public for doing nothing wrong; it is guilty until proven innocent — all, simply because of the color of their skin.

It is the antithesis of freedom.

Starbucks is not being silent about this incident: “Our goal is to make our stores a safe and welcoming place for everyone, and we have failed,” the company Facebook page states. Every single U.S. Starbucks will be closed May 29 for “racial-bias education” for all employees.

It’s a good start. Perhaps the company will set a standard that’s been long overdue.