Spaeth: The Starbucks scandal is breaking the silence about racial discrimination

Starbucks Coffee logo (wikimedia)

In early April, two Black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks, allegedly on suspicion that they were trespassing, when they were actually just waiting on a friend. The arrests led to the takeover of a Starbucks store in Philadelphia and outrage. Since the incident and the protests, Starbucks has announced that they will be closing more than 8,000 stores on May 29 for an employee racial-tolerance training.

The incident has put Starbucks — a company that prides itself on diversity and inclusion — on blast. People are upset because this is not a singular incident and because the decision to call the police seems to be rooted in discrimination. The video of the incident was viewed over 8 million times and prompted responses from both Philadelphia’s mayor and the city’s police commissioner. The arrests in Philadelphia have also resurfaced talk about an incident four years ago when a man sleeping in a nearby park was shot to death after Starbucks called the police on him.

“I’m happy it didn’t turn out the same way,” Nate Hamilton, the brother of the victim, told Reuters. “Starbucks, they talk a good game. Is it going to be put into action?” he said of the CEO’s plans. Hamilton brings up a valid point: Starbucks has a history of racism and discrimination, and so far nothing has changed. Can we trust that Starbucks will put its money where its mouth is and prevent another incident from happening?

The men were released without charges and have recently broken the silence and spoken out about their experience. In an interview with the Associated Press, Rashon Nelson, one of the men arrested, said he wondered if he would make it home alive.

“Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen.” The conversation continued in an interview on Good Morning America. The two men are hoping that this incident will incite more awareness about this issue and spur a dialogue about race and discrimination.

This is not simply an issue with Starbucks. Right now, they are center stage, and the world is watching to see how they will move forward, but this is a widespread issue and companies everywhere could benefit from racial bias trainings. People need to speak up and let companies know that this sort of behavior is unacceptable. By tolerating discrimination, we are perpetuating it.

The Starbucks in Eugene on 13th Street will be closing for the training. They are supportive of it because they do not want another incident like this to happen again.

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