Two black men whose arrests at a Starbucks in Philadelphia led to protests and plans for bias training at thousands of the chain’s locations spoke about the ordeal for the first time on Thursday, saying they were not told by the police why they were being escorted out.
The men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23, went to a downtown Starbucks on April 12 for a business meeting involving real estate that they had been working on for months, they said during an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Mr. Nelson asked to use the restroom and was told by the manager that they were only for paying customers. He joined Mr. Robinson at a table to wait for the person they planned to meet. The manager approached, asked them if they wanted to order drinks. They declined.
According to 911 records, approximately two minutes after the men entered the store, the police were called.
“Initially, as soon as they approached us, they just said we have to leave,” Mr. Nelson said. “There was no question of, you know, was there a problem here between you guys and the manager?”
Mr. Robinson said they were put in double lock handcuffs, were not read their rights and were not told why they were being arrested. They were “escorted out and put into a squad car,” he said. “In that moment, I am trying to process what’s going on.”
FULL INTERVIEW: “This is something that has been going on for years…everyone is blind to it.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 19, 2018
“After the first time they walk over and they say, ‘you have to leave,’ I say, ‘we are here for a meeting,’” Mr. Robinson added. “We have been working on this for months.”
The men were arrested on suspicion of trespassing. Starbucks did not press charges and they were released.
In a separate interview with The Associated Press, Mr. Nelson 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 men said on “Good Morning America” that they hoped the incident would spur a dialogue about race. “I want to make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Robinson said. “What I want is for young men to not be traumatized by this, and instead motivated, inspired.”
Mr. Nelson said he hoped the episode would inspire black people “to really stand up and show your greatness, and that you are not judged by the color of your skin as our ancestors were.”
“This is something that has been going on for years and everyone’s blind to it,” he added. “But they know what’s going on, if you get what I mean.”
In a news conference on Thursday, Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. of the Philadelphia Police Department apologized to the two men and said the episode warranted a policy change.
He also suggested that the officers might not have been aware that Starbucks, which has more than 8,000 stores nationwide, presents itself as a meeting place where people can linger.
“They were put in some ways in an untenable position,” he said. “You can’t expect them to walk into every business and intuitively know what every policy is.”
The Starbucks employee who asked the men to leave is no longer working there. The chain’s chief executive, Kevin R. Johnson, said this week that what happened to the men was wrong.
“It’s my responsibility to understand what happened and what led to that, and ensure that we fix it,” Mr. Johnson said.
Starbucks has announced it will close its stores in the United States on May 29 to give anti-bias training to 175,000 employees.
The scene was recorded in a video that has been viewed more than 11 million times on Twitter. The arrests prompted a #BoycottStarbucks campaign and protests at the store, in Philadelphia’s Center City.