“Enough is enough,” shouted Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor at Mother Bethel AME church and a leader of the activist group POWER, during the demonstration. Tyler was flanked by several clergy members across multiple faiths in solidarity as the group demanded changes.
Even though the Starbucks manager, who called the police about the two men saying they were in violation of company policy by loitering, has stepped down from her position, the group still wants action. Their demands include Starbucks paying their employees $15 per hour, the company’s leadership meeting with their organization and clearly explaining the company’s procedures, and further investments into Black owned businesses.
“We demand an investment in Black owned franchises, in African American communities, and not just Magic Johnson’s in Los Angeles, but all throughout the United States,” Tyler said.
The group then took over the Starbucks, vowing to stay without making one purchase. The protestors led chants and hymns while holding a sit in in front of the coolers full of bottled water and sandwiches.
The Starbucks is located on the corner of 18th and Spruce Streets, in the city’s upscale Rittenhouse section. It’s around the corner from a number of the city’s high-end clothing stores, restaurants, and high-rise apartments as well as the University of the Arts.
The heart of the issue
The two men, who remain unnamed, were apparently real estate brokers waiting on a friend and business partner when the store’s manager called the police. The incident struck a nerve with several members of the Philadelphia City Council, who were also in attendance during the protest.
Councilman Derek Green referred to the incident as a “black eye” for the city and wondered what could happen to him.
“On a Saturday afternoon, I’m not in a suit,” Green said. “I could be running errands in sweatpants, a baseball cap, and sneakers – I call that my “honey do” suit.
“Now if I was wearing that and I happen to come to this Starbucks at 18 and Spruce, would I be profiled like those two young men were profiled? I happen to be a 6-foot-3, African American man of the same build, so that’s concerning to me.”
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said during a Facebook live session that he felt his officers did nothing wrong in arresting the men, even though they were not charged and released after eight hours. Green, a former prosecutor, also questioned why so many officers were needed in a situation that appeared to be peaceful.
“I do think it’s troubling that you had six to eight bike cops,” Green said. If someone had called from a Starbucks at a different location, would they have had that same kind of response? Ultimately, the issue rests with Starbucks and their escalating this situation.”
“If you’re going to empower your employees and managers to have those type of policies, there needs to be some type of training involved in that,” he said. “You also need to make sure that they’re trained on how to implement those policies, so we don’t have these situations occur.”
Jay Scott Smith is a contributor to TheGrio. You can follow him on Twitter @JayScottSmith.