On Thursday morning, two men who accuse a Starbucks manager of calling the police on them because they were black appeared on ABC News’ Good Morning America. On the show, they claimed that they asked a barista for the code to the bathroom and were told they could not have it because they had not yet purchased anything; they then allegedly sat down in the Starbucks while waiting for a business meeting, but were accosted by a manager asking them if they would purchase anything. When they refused, she called the police, who came and arrested them. Part of the arrest was filmed by witnesses inside the Starbucks.
This story has been used by the media as proof positive of widespread American racism, a verifiable incident of racial bias caught on tape. The manager of the store, one Holly, is an “SJW feminist of the highest order,” according to one of my listeners who frequents this Starbucks. Philadelphia is a heavily black city, which means that Holly presumably dealt with black customers routinely (in fact, my listener confirms this, and says she has never seen any racial bias in their treatment by Holly). Holly claims that she has dealt with many people attempting to loiter in the café, and she says that at least one of those people chased her around the store after she asked them to leave.
And here’s the account from the black chief of police of Philadelphia, Richard Ross:
According to employees, they had seen these two males come in, they sat down, and after being seated, they decided that they needed to use the restroom. Starbucks says that according to their company policy, they do not allow non-paying members of the public to come in and use the restroom. They then asked these two males to leave. These two males refuse to leave. … When the police were summoned to the scene they get there and they get this story. … They then approach the males, they ask the males to leave because they’re being asked to leave by Starbucks employees, in fact in an effort to quell the situation, the officers actually called for a supervisor. …Three different occasions, the officers asked the males politely to leave the location. … Instead, the males continued to refuse, as they had told the employees previously, and they told the officers that they were not leaving. When the call was initially made, the Starbucks employees had told the males that they were going to call police, and they said, “Go ahead call the police, we don’t care.” So police get there and they’re confronted by the same kind of attitude, and they’re repeatedly told they’re not leaving.
So, we have conflicting accounts of the event. And we still haven’t heard directly from Holly, who understandably prefers to remain anonymous. We do know that Starbucks hasn’t fired her — they say she no longer works at that location. Unlike a racist situation at Applebee’s in Misssouri back in February, the employee wasn’t canned immediately — and the story can’t be fully verified, as shown by the conflicting statements.
At the very least, then, people should be asking for substantiation of the incident beyond witness testimony, if the possibility of such substantiation exists. Just as everyone should ask for body camera footage of police incidents, we should be asking for footage of other incidents that become major national issues. We’ve seen high profile cases of people talking about their alleged victimization at the hands of racist authorities that have been debunked with the presence of tape (see, e.g., Michael Bennett, who claimed that racist Vegas cops brutalized him for no reason, or the Michael Brown shooting, which was played as a “hands up, don’t shoot” moment by the mainstream media for months despite all evidence to the contrary).
That’s why I asked a simple question on Twitter: did the Starbucks in question have cameras? And if so, why hadn’t we seen the tape of the incident from those cameras, from beginning to end?
As it turns out, there are several cameras at that particular Starbucks:
So Starbucks presumably has video of the entire incident, perhaps from multiple angles. Now, perhaps the reason they’re not releasing tape is because they think doing so is superfluous — it confirms the account of the two men. Or perhaps they’re not releasing the tape because doing so might muddy the waters, and they don’t want the media portraying them as racist for failing to own up to their responsibilities. In any case, it’s not unreasonable to ask for objective confirmation of public events. Nor is it “trutherism” — the tape will show what the tape will show, and if this was indeed an incident of racism, I’m more than happy to say so. The point is that there are already conflicting stories about what happened, so further evidence would be useful.
But it seems that the media have no interest in actually digging down into simple questions like this. Which is somewhat suspicious, particularly as they highlight national calls for boycotts against a chain that employs almost a quarter million people.