Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Two black men arrested at Starbucks get an apology from police

Published:Friday | April 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Rashon Nelson (left) speaks as Donte Robinson looks on during an interview with The Associated Press in Philadelphia, United States.


Rashon Nelson initially brushed it off when the Starbucks manager told him he couldn't use the restroom because he wasn't a paying customer.

He thought nothing of it when he and his childhood friend and business partner, Donte Robinson, were approached at their table and asked if they needed help. The 23-year-old entrepreneurs declined, explaining they were just waiting for a business meeting.

A few minutes later, they hardly noticed when the police came into the coffee shop - until officers started walking in their direction.

"That's when we knew she called the police on us," Nelson told The Associated Press in the first interview by the two black men since a video of their trespassing arrests on April 12 touched off a furor around the US over racial profiling, or what has been dubbed 'retail racism' or 'shopping while black.'

Nelson and Robinson were led away in handcuffs from the shop in the city's well-to-do Rittenhouse Square neighborhood in an incident recorded on a white customer's cell phone.

In the week since, the men have met with Starbucks' apologetic chief executive officer and have started pushing for lasting change at the coffee-shop chain, including new policies on discrimination and ejecting customers.




"We do want to make sure it doesn't happen to anybody again," Robinson said. "What if it wasn't us sitting there? What if it was the kid that didn't know somebody that knew somebody? Do they make it to jail? Do they die? What happens?"

Yesterday, they also got an apology from Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, a black man who at first staunchly defended his officers' handling of the incident.

"I should have said the officers acted within the scope of the law, and not that they didn't do anything wrong," Ross said. "Words are very important."

At a news conference, a somber Ross said he "failed miserably" in addressing the arrests. He said that the issue of race is not lost on him and that he shouldn't be the person making things worse. "Shame on me if, in any way, I've done that," he said.

He also said the police department did not have a policy for dealing with such situations but does now, and it will be released soon.