When I see the story of two African American men arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks, waiting for a friend to arrive, it’s a troubling moment. They know, and I know, and everybody who lives in America in 2018 knows that this only happened to them because of their skin color. Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, it was the color of these two men’s skin that landed them in police custody. The content of their character had nothing to do with what happened to them.
The manager of the store somehow determined that calling the police was the right course of action to take in this situation. This should have never been a situation to begin with, but since it became one we need to sort through its ramifications. It’s not my intention to blame the police in this, either. It was the decision to call the police that led to this story in the first place.
Firing the store manager is the obvious first step to take. Whatever lapse of judgment was committed can never be allowed to happen again. No amount of remorse or retraining or unpaid suspension time can undo the toxic views this person carries around inside of him or her. We all make mistakes, but this is one that must not be repeated.
Public businesses like Starbucks provide washroom facilities for their customers. But access to these facilities–which I believe is what gave rise to the incident in Philadelphia–must not be predicated on skin color. There’s not a business around that would deny a white guy like me the ability to use their washroom. There’s no valid reason for denying the same courtesy to anyone else, either.
Starbucks will likely develop and implement guidelines over access to facilities in the wake of this incident. It’s surely leading to the type of backlash that isn’t good for the company’s well-maintained public image. But even more importantly, it’s a chance to examine who we are as people. I like clean bathrooms as much as anyone else, but I’m not comfortable with telling anyone that they can’t use washroom facilities, particularly when skin color appears to be the determining factor in the equation.
We must do the right thing here. All of us.