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Black men arrested at Starbucks suggest profiling and racial bias

Two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April provoked nationwide outrage as a viral video of the incident circulated. The men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were waiting on another man for a business meeting at the coffee chain. They asked to use the bathroom, but an employee refused because they had not purchased anything. The employee then asked the men to leave, but they did not, and a staff member called the police.

According to CNN, the police arrived at Starbucks, and asked the men to leave three times because the employee had accused the men of trespassing. When the men refused, the officers handcuffed the men and took them to the police station. The man they were waiting to meet, Andrew Yaffe, arrived as the officers were placing the men in cuffs. The men were released, after it was determined that Starbucks did not want to press charges.

Starbucks apologizes and condemns behavior

The incident sparked outrage against the coffee chain and Philadelphia law enforcement. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson quickly apologized, and stated that the company is against racial profiling and discrimination. The coffee chain shut down 8,000 stores in North American at the end of May to provide employee training on racial sensitivity. Starbucks also reached a financial settlement with both Nelson and Robinson.

Commissioner denies racial bias in arrest

Police Commissioner Richard Ross stated the officers were well within their rights to arrest the men. The employee had accused the men of trespassing, and then the officers arrested the men for refusing to leave the premises.

Pennsylvania law states law enforcement officers need probable cause to arrest someone. Probable cause is defined as having evidence or a reasonable basis to believe that a party committed the accused crime. However, it is judges, not police officers, that ultimately get to determine if probable cause exists. Since Starbucks did not press charges, this case did not go to trial and was not presided over by a judge.

Men asked city’s money be used for students

The city later reached an agreement with Nelson and Robinson. The New York Times states the men deferred from taking money themselves, only accepting a token of $1 each. They asked the city to use the $200,000 settlement to start a program for high school students who want to become entrepreneurs.

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