By James Barrett
After initially defending his officers for how they handled the arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Richard Ross appeared in front of cameras on Thursday to walk back his defense and apologize to the two young men.
Ross’ statement to the press followed the first interview with Rashan Nelson and Donte Robinson about what took place a week earlier at the Philly Starbucks, the video of which went viral and prompted a #BoycottStarbucks campaign resulting in the CEO announcing that the company would shut down 8,000 stores at the end of May for what he deems is some much-needed racial bias training.
Speaking at the Philadelphia Police headquarters on Thursday, Commissioner Ross said he wishes he’d phrased things a little differently when he first addressed the incident in a Facebook post.
“I’m here to discuss the unfortunate incident that has been in the news about this great city, an incident that I fully acknowledge that I played a significant role in making worse,” he said (video below). “For starters, I should have said the officers acted within the scope of the law and not that they didn’t do anything wrong. Words are very important.”
The key misunderstanding from his end — as well as the officers, most likely — he suggested, was that though Starbucks’ official policy at the store requires customers to purchase something before using the restroom, it’s a “wide spread belief” that at Starbucks you’re allowed to sit for long periods of time without making any purchase.
“While it is no excuse, my lack of awareness of the Starbucks business model played a role in my messaging,” he continued. “While this is apparently a well-known fact with Starbucks customers, not everyone is aware that people spend long hours in Starbucks and aren’t necessarily expected to make a purchase. I have had multiple discussions over the last few days and and it is a — I shouldn’t say a well known fact, but a widespread belief, that everyone knows that about Starbucks. I am here to tell you that I did not and it is also reasonable to believe the officers didn’t know it either.”
Based on that “business model,” he said he could understand why the two men were shocked by being asked to leave. “I can appreciate, in light of the Starbucks policy and how well known it is to many, why these two men were appalled when they were asked to leave,” he said. “For this reason, me, I apologize to them.”
Though he is clearly now putting the blame fully on the shoulders of himself and the officers, Ross said in his initial statement that the officers handled the situation perfectly and were very respectful to the young men, but that Nelson and Robinson gave the officers “the opposite back.”
Meanwhile, Starbucks’ CEO Kevin Johnson has made multiple statements in which he has suggested that unconscious bias motivated the “reprehensible” incident. “I’ll say the circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome at our store on Thursday were reprehensible,” he said on Good Morning America on Monday. “So, clearly, there’s an opportunity for us to provide clarity and in addition to that I’d say there’s training, more training that we’re going to do with our store managers, not only around the guidelines but training around unconscious bias.”
Video of Ross’ statement below: