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The Starbucks Incident

The Starbucks Incident

Two black males entered Starbucks to wait for a friend to arrive and did not order anything from the business. Prior to ordering and prior to their friend’s arrival, they decided to attempt to use the restroom. An employee denied the men access to the restroom because they had not purchased anything and asked them to leave. The men calmly refused and the employee called the police. The police arrived at the scene and asked the men to leave the facility. The men refused numerous times. The men were told that they would be arrested if they did not leave the restaurant. The men told the officers to arrest them. The men calmly stood up and allowed the officers to arrest them. They were transported to jail, when Starbucks contacted the police department and stated that they did not want to follow through with charges against the men. They were released.

Why did the police officers have to arrest them?

Why didn’t the officers investigate further?

Any employee of a business has the right to ask a person to leave their business. If a person refuses to do so, it is trespassing, period. The modern-day purpose of that charge is to reduce physical conflicts, escalating situations and to protect patrons/employees. The number 1 reason why trespassing is important is because the mentally ill and homeless “camp out” inside of businesses scaring/employees and customers. I trained near downtown and I was frequently called to arrest the mentally ill/ homeless for trespassing. It isn’t to discriminate against them, but they cause disturbances. I removed a guy for clipping his toenails on a table. I removed a woman for bathing in the toilet. I removed a man for masturbating in a trash can next to a family with small children. We have a homeless/ mental illness problem in America and there is no real solution to the problem. Trespassing charges are the quickest way to remove them and the nuisances associated with their behavior.

If you have ever been to a parade or any other event, you know that business often post signs stating that no one can use the restroom unless they are paying customers. You can imagine the nuisances caused by hundreds of drunk people creating a line only to use the restroom, pushing actual customers away from a business. It has caused numerous fights and disturbances. Trespassing charges are the easiest way to get people to leave and go on with their day.

In this Starbucks situation, the police were called and an employee wanted the two men out of the store. When the police arrive, it is their job to arrest someone who refuses to leave after being asked to do so by the business. Period. It doesn’t matter if the men were correct or not. A business can ask someone to leave. This prevents escalation between patrons/ employees for the most part. If a patron has a separate civil issue with the company, they are free to file that complaint or seek justice in other methods. The officers did nothing wrong.

As an officer, I know that most officers hate arresting people for trespassing. In an officer’s heart, they are hoping that the person being asked to leave will be gone prior to arrival. Most officers are disappointed to see the person still at the location. Trespassing charges are way too much paperwork and take too long to process at jail considering the charge. It’s annoying, but needs to be done in some circumstances. The officers asked the men to leave several times hoping they would just leave. They refused and told the officers to take them to jail. The officers were forced to take them to jail. They were professional and did their jobs. This is a civil issue and the issue lies with Starbucks and not the officers.

Racism / Cognitive Bias

It is not my place to accuse the employee of being racist, as I don’t know her heart and I wasn’t there. Racism and cognitive biases towards black people are real. I experience it all the time. Both affect black people the same way, regardless of the intention of the person exhibiting that behavior. It is tiring.

The beauty of this incident occurring at Starbucks as opposed to any other restaurant is that Starbucks encourages and cultivates an environment of loitering. College students spend hours there studying without making a purchase. People go on first dates without spending a dime. Business meetings take place there without a dime being spent. Friends gather there to pass time while waiting to go to a concert. People go there to read books. People go there to hang out. Starbucks has less standing to try to enforce a strict bathroom rule because of the environment that it encourages among citizens.

Many people use the restroom before placing an order. I would never order anything prior to using the restroom. You might miss your name being called for your order. I don’t like leaving my food/beverages unattended while in the restroom. I will not take my food/ beverage in the bathroom.

There was nothing about those two men that should have made this employee think they were mentally ill/ homeless. There was nothing about these men that should have made this employee believe they were a threat. There was nothing about these men that should have made the employee believe they were at a parade and using the restroom without intentions of patronizing their business.

Opinion

I get numerous messages from white people who desire to understand why black people get so upset about situations like this and I will try to explain.

I’ve gone to jail to do an interview with a prisoner, wearing the proper credentials and I had a jail worker put their hand on my chest (and the badge allowing me access) telling me that I can’t enter the facility. I was with a white officer, who was not wearing the proper credentials and he was allowed to pass through. When the white officer saw that I had problems passing through security, he came back and told the security worker that I was an officer. I did everything I was supposed to do, but my credentials meant nothing because her racism/cognitive bias told her that most officers are white males and she decided in her mind that I couldn’t be an officer. What if I punched her for putting her hand on my chest? How would I be viewed? She never looked at my credentials. She only saw my hair and face. I needed my white co-worker to validate my existence.

I was talking on my phone in CVS getting ready to buy toiletries for a trip. I was being followed around the store by an elderly white woman. I ignored it and continued to speak on the phone. Suddenly, an officer was called to the store. I saw the officer, but I didn’t care because I am an officer and I just knew he wasn’t there for me. The officer walked up to me and asked what I was doing in the store. I told him I was shopping. He told me that a suspicious person call came out about me. I started laughing and began to look for the elderly white woman. I knew she called because these things happen to me more than they should. She was peeking around a shelf to see what would happen. I knew she called the police. As he began to ask for my name to check and see if I had warrants, I showed him my badge. He stopped gathering my information. The officer was very professional. It wasn’t his fault that he was called there. If he refused to investigate and I robbed the store, he would have been in trouble. He marched me over to the elderly lady and asked her why she called the police. He showed her my badge and she still didn’t believe that I was an officer. He criticized her behavior and stormed out of the store. Good thing I had my “I’m not just another black person” badge. What happens to those who don’t have one? I needed the white officer to validate my existence.

I was at work for nearly 48 hours finishing up a big case. I went to my car to retrieve something and began to walk back into the police department headquarters. I was wearing plain clothes and wasn’t wearing identification. A white officer was in front of me wearing plain clothes and not wearing identification. A uniformed white officer was exiting the building and asked the white undercover officer, who looked like an extra from “Duck Dynasty,” if he was an officer. The guy stated that he was an officer and the uniformed white officer allowed him to enter the building. I was a few steps behind that exchange and the white uniformed officer asked me for my identification as I began to approach the building. I have been through this production many times so I already knew where this was headed. I told him that I was an officer to see if that same privilege would work for me as I entered the station. He repeated that he needed to see my identification and blocked the door. I was tired from being at work for so long and wasn’t as politically correct as usual. He began to try an enforce policy stating that he needed to see my identification. I told him that I would not show him my identification until he chased down the white, homeless looking guy that he didn’t recognize as an officer and ask him for his identification. He was clearly upset. He was upset that his authority wasn’t respected. He asked why everything had to be about race. I told him I’ve been trying to figure that out my whole life. He plead for me to just show him my identification because it wasn’t a big deal. I told him it was a big deal. I won’t comply because that’s what you want me to do and you want your authority respected. I told him to show me his identification and he refused. He got upset and walked away cursing me out. I wouldn’t have had a problem showing him my identification because it is policy. I wasn’t showing him anything because he trusted the white undercover officer’s word, but mine wasn’t good enough. If only I had a white officer with me to validate my presence at the police department.

What would that officer say about me if I filed a complaint? What if I got loud with him? Would he label me as another angry black woman? Would he tell everyone on the department that I am a race baiter to defend his behavior? I didn’t complain.

I went to Gloria’s (Addison) for a birthday party around 2 pm. I had on Timberland boots, but was dressed fashionable. The security guard let the rest of my group in, but told me that I couldn’t wear tennis shoes inside. I told him that I was wearing boots and he said boots and tennis shoes were the same. I politely asked to speak with the manager. I tried to show him my “get out of looking suspicious” police identification and told him that I wasn’t there to cause problems, I drove an hour to get here and I was there for a birthday party. He rudely said that I wouldn’t be attending any party at their business. There were numerous white guys wearing actual tennis shoes and they were immediately allowed inside the business. I pointed to those guys and asked why those tennis shoes were acceptable? He called more security guards to the scene and said that I would not be allowed inside their business. I missed the party, nor did I desire to be there anymore. I never go to that Gloria’s and I think about that experience every time I pass by it. This may not seem like a big deal to you if you are white. These things don’t happen to you all the time.

Every day black people have to be calmer and pick and choose their battles. It is tiring. I understand the frustration of white officers who don’t understand all the frustration exhibited by blacks. These incidents don’t happen to them daily. Their position is validated just by existing. I understand why white people say “just be compliant.” Generally, people should just comply, but sometimes you have to dig your heels in the sand to effect change.

Again, the police did nothing wrong in this situation. There is no recourse when white people call the police because of their own racism/ cognitive biases. What if those men were supposed to see their daughters off to prom and missed it due to their arrests? What if they had to acknowledge this arrest as they applied for jobs? What if their sons had soccer games that they missed because of this incident?

If these white people didn’t step up and say that they come to Starbucks all the time without ordering and are allowed access to the bathroom, where would those black men be? If those white people refused to get involved because the incident didn’t affect them, where would those black men be? If those white people didn’t record the incident, documenting proof of how calm the black men were, where would those men be? If those white people didn’t raise so much hell, that the company called the police station and refused to press charges against them, where would those black men be? Where would black people be without white chaperones to prove their existence is valid and harmless? Black people should not need validation from white people to exist.

Just as criminals don’t wear signs indicating that they are criminals, racists and people with cognitive biases don’t wear signs indicating their status. If you are white, I encourage you to try to imagine going through incidents like this every day as you buy groceries, pump gas, ride the bus, purchase clothes at the mall, attend parties, go to bars, watch your children play sports, and a long list of other everyday activities. It doesn’t make you a racist if you don’t insert yourself in situations such as this to defend people. It takes a special person to stand up for people dealing with an issue that will never affect you.

About The Author

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Chelsea Whitaker is a Dallas Area Police Officer and member of the 2005 Baylor Bear Basketball Team that won the National Championship. Her desire is to give others #perspective in order to #bridgethegap. She is a frequent contributor to Law Officer.

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