Starbucks to close stores nationwide for one day to conduct racial bias training

The decision comes less than a week after two black men were arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks store while waiting for a friend.

Protester Donn T (C) demonstrates inside a Center City Starbucks on April 15, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after two black men were arrested there while waiting for a friend. CREDIT: Mark Makela/Getty Images
Protester Donn T (C) demonstrates inside a Center City Starbucks on April 15, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after two black men were arrested there while waiting for a friend. CREDIT: Mark Makela/Getty Images

More than 8,000 Starbucks locations nationwide will close their doors for the afternoon on May 29, to train 175,000 staff on how to prevent racial bias in their stores, the company announced Tuesday.

The move comes as the coffee behemoth faces nationwide backlash, calls for a boycotts, and protests over an incident that happened last Thursday, in which two black men were arrested while waiting inside a Starbucks in Philadelphia.

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The two men said they were waiting for an associate to discuss real estate, but when they asked to use the restroom, which had a key-code lock, they were refused because they had not purchased anything yet. They then sat down to wait for their associate, and a store manager called police.

Several policemen arrived and subsequently asked the two men to leave; they refused, explaining that they were waiting for their associate. The police arrested the men for trespassing even after the person they were there to meet, a white man, arrived and attempted to vouch for the men, calling the incident “discrimination” and asking the few customers in the store “does anybody else think this is ridiculous?” to general assent. The two men were led out calmly in handcuffs, and held for part of the day before being released.

Over the weekend, a video of the incident went viral, and Philadelphia Police Chief Richard Ross appeared in a video defending the cops who chose to arrest the two men. Protests sprang up at several Starbucks locations, and some people walked into the Philadelphia location where the incident took place on Monday, calling for an end to stop and frisk, and chanting “A whole lot of racism, a whole lot of crap, Starbucks coffee is anti-black.”

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The manager involved in the incident has since left the store, although details about their identity or the reason for their departure were not made public by the company.

Starbucks’ corporate response to the incident has been relatively swift compared to some of its rivals who have dealt with similar controversies, and CEO Kevin Johnson has apologized twice for what happened.

“I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. He called the decision to close the stores “one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”

On the afternoon of May 29, all corporate offices and company-owned stores will close to train employees on “implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.” The curriculum will be developed with help from Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

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The company is also reviewing its current training and practices, and the resulting education materials, according to the statement, will be available for any other company to use, including the Starbucks stores owned by licensees.

On Monday, Johnson reportedly flew out to Philadelphia, asking to meet with the two men who had been arrested. The CEO told ABC’s Good Morning America that the arrests were “reprehensible” and that he wanted to personally find a “constructive solution” with the two men.

Johnson also met with city leaders Monday, who said they were waiting for tangible changes from the company.