Two men arrested at Starbucks demand change

The two men who were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks and accused of trespassing say they want to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Posted: Apr 20, 2018 5:40 AM
Updated: Apr 20, 2018 5:40 AM

The two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks last week say they were handcuffed within minutes of entering the store.

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday and described their arrest. They said they went to Starbucks for a business meeting that they believed would change their lives.

Nelson said he asked to use the restroom shortly after walking in and was told it was only for paying customers. The two men were waiting for a third person when a white store employee called 911 minutes later.

"I was thinking, they can't be here for us," Robinson said of the police. "It didn't really hit me what was going on, that it was real, till I was being double-locked with my hands behind my back."

Nelson and Robinson were arrested for trespassing. No charges were filed. Video of the incident went viral and ignited protests and calls for boycotts.

Nelson said they had been working on the meeting for months. "We're days away from changing our whole entire situation, our lives, and you about to sit here telling me I can't do that? You're not doing that."

"I understand that rules are rules, but what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong," Robinson said.

On Monday, the two men met with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, who apologized.

"I want to make sure that this situation doesn't happen again," Robinson said. "What I want is for a young man, young men, to not be traumatized by this and instead motivated, inspired."

Related: Starbucks has a bold plan to address racial bias. Will it work?

A lawyer for the two men told "Good Morning America" that Starbucks has agreed to their proposal to enter mediation with a retired federal judge.

The store employee who called 911 is no longer with the company. Starbucks has not said under what circumstances she left.

Starbucks plans to close its 8,000 company-owned stores in the United States for one afternoon in May to teach employees about racial bias. The training will be provided to about 175,000 workers.

It will be developed with guidance from experts including former Attorney General Eric Holder and Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Related: Starbucks will close 8,000 US stores May 29 for racial-bias training

On Wednesday, Johnson and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz met with Philadelphia church and community leaders.

Rev. Gregory Holston, executive director of POWER, a group that helped organize the meeting, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Starbucks' response.

In addition to the bias training, Starbucks leaders were pressed in the meeting on raising wages, on hiring workers who have been incarcerated and on their role in gentrifying neighborhoods.

"We are challenging them to take the lead in supporting racial justice organizations and speaking to other companies to join the cause," Holston said.

Starbucks declined to discuss the meeting, but said through a spokesperson that "we are grateful to have these opportunities to talk with and listen to civic and community leaders this week in Philadelphia."

— Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Nelson, not Robinson, asked to use the restroom.

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