Starbucks is in the process of being consumed by the liberal pitchfork mob it spent years placating. It’s certainly tempting to sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude. But my disdain for pitchfork mobs is greater than my disdain for liberal corporations, so I will now do something I never thought I would do: defend Starbucks. Sort of.
Let’s first take a look at the mess Starbucks has fallen into. The company is currently the subject of protests and boycotts and extremely bad press because of two “racist” incidents that occurred in two different locations over the span of a few days. It all started when a video surfaced of two black men being arrested at a store in Philadelphia. We were not given many details — and still we do not have many details — but the image of two black men being led out in cuffs was enough, in the minds of the mob, to prove bigotry. No other explanation has been entertained. No further evidence has been sought.
Then, on Monday, a video from a Starbucks in Los Angeles went viral. In this case, a black man was denied the code to the bathroom because he was not a paying customer. He then took out his phone and began filming. He discovered that a white man had been given access to the bathroom without buying anything, so he proceeded to berate the manager on duty (who was, by appearances, not white). Now that manager’s face has been plastered everywhere online, and she has been labeled a bigot and a racist without anyone stopping to even consider what her side of the story might be.
Perhaps racism is really the culprit in both cases. Perhaps it is the culprit in one and not the other. But a rational and honest person would want to consider the entire context of these incidents before accusing anyone of something as serious as racism. It is just unfortunate that there aren’t very many rational or honest people left in America. And there are none at all in a pitchfork mob.
The situation in Philadelphia obviously looks quite bad, but looks — especially the look of a viral video devoid of context — can be deceptive. Here is the missing context (or some of it, anyway): the two men were sitting in the store, taking up seats, without having actually purchased anything. That is, technically, loitering and trespassing. It just so happens that the Starbucks in Philadelphia has a policy against loitering. Loitering is apparently a significant problem at that location and the manager says that she has had some tense moments with loiterers in the past, including one incident where someone chased her around the store after refusing to leave.
The store employees tried to deal with the men peacefully. The men were informed that only customers can sit at the tables or use the restrooms — which is, again, a policy that this particular establishment has a history of enforcing — but the two refused to abide by the policy. When they were told that the police would have to be called, they responded, “Go ahead and call the police. We don’t care.”
The police arrived and negotiated with the men for several minutes. Still they would not leave. Finally the officers arrested them because there was literally no other option. A police officer cannot just allow someone to trespass on private property. If a trespasser will not clear off the premises, the police cannot say, “Well, okay, then. Never mind.” They must uphold the law.
Of course it is claimed that white people loiter in Starbucks all the time without being asked to leave. This must prove that these men were singled out for their race. Perhaps it does. But if the men were arrested for “being black in Starbucks,” you’d think there must be many similar stories from that same Starbucks location. Presumably, the Starbucks in Philadelphia has hundreds of black patrons come in and out every single week. If the manager is so uncontrollably racist that she actually called the cops on two black men simply because they are black, why didn’t she do the same with any of the hundreds or thousands of other black customers she’s seen in the store?
And here’s another question: Has this manager ever done the same to white people? She says she has enforced the loitering rule plenty of times in the past. Were they always black people? If she has done exactly the same to people of her own race, wouldn’t that disprove racism with absolute certainty? Are we sure that the loitering policy at the Starbucks in Philadelphia was enforced based on skin color? How are we sure? Does someone have proof?
The bathroom incident in Los Angeles is even murkier. It is standard policy in almost any urban restaurant or store of any kind to give bathroom privileges only to paying customers. Just last week I was refused the restroom at a cafe in D.C. because I hadn’t purchased anything. So, I purchased something. It never occurred to me that my rights may have been infringed upon.
It is not necessarily significant that a white man had been able to use the restroom even as a black man was not. It could be evidence of racism, or it could simply be that the white man is a regular customer and the staff knew he would buy something. Regular customers often enjoy special privilege, regardless of their race. It could also be that he was given the restroom code by an employee who was more lax about the rules, and the black man was refused the code by an employee who was not so lax. Either of these explanations seem more plausible than the idea that a non-white woman working at a Starbucks in Los Angeles is racist against black people. Again, if that’s the case, one must wonder how she has functioned at a store where an extremely high percentage of the customers are racial minorities. Was this her first day on the job? And her first day in Los Angeles?
Perhaps it was. Perhaps she’s a filthy racist. Perhaps the manager in Philadelphia is a filthy racist. But I have seen no evidence to support those charges. And until someone can provide some, I won’t be grabbing my pitchfork. And neither should you.