Protesters Gather Outside Philadelphia Starbucks After 2 Black Men Were Arrested There

One man led a call and response chant: "Today, this space is secure, secured by the people"

Protesters swarmed a Philadelphia Starbucks Sunday after two black men were arrested there last week for allegedly refusing to leave.

The demonstration at the Center City cafe started around noon at the intersection of 18th and Spruce streets and quickly escalated. Protesters carrying loudspeakers shouted as they crowded into the coffee shop and confronted employees behind the cash register.

One man led a call and response chant: "Today, this space is secure," he said, "secured by the people."

Some demonstrators carried signs that read "Too Little Too Latte" and "#Enough Shame On Your Starbucks." Outside, an organizer told those crowded around that "we will not tolerate racial bias anymore."

Sunday's action stemmed from a video posted on social media showing two black men, who claimed to have been waiting for a friend, being handcuffed and escorted out of the coffee shop on Thursday.

By Saturday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said he wanted to apologize personally to the two men. Johnson posted a lengthy statement on the company's website, calling the situation "disheartening" and "reprehensible." 

"We would love to meet those two men and personally apologize," Camille Hymes, the Starbucks regional manager, told NBC10. "We take full responsibility."

Protesters demanded that the store manager who called police on the two men be fired. Hymes, who met with the protesters at the Starbucks Sunday, did not offer to meet that demand.

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"We take full responsibility and....we put [the manager] in a position that did not allow her to be set up for success or those two men," Hymes said.

It was not the answer the demonstrators were looking for.

"We want her out and once she's fired, then we may have a conversation," said Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania activist Asa Khalif, who attended Sunday's protest.

Hymes said the company still had work to do.

"This incident does not reflect the spirit of our brand," Hymes said. "It was an unfortunate incident and we'll be sure to make it right."

Authorities were called to the Starbucks Thursday afternoon when the two men allegedly remained in the store after a manager told them they had to order something, according to witnesses. Philadelphia Police commissioner Richard Ross said they received a 911 call from the Starbucks reporting a disturbance and trespassing(Listen to the full dispatch HERE).

The employees told police the men came into the store, sat down and then used the bathroom, according to Ross.

"Starbucks said that according to their company policy, they do not allow non-paying...people of the public to come in and use the restroom," Ross said. "So they then asked these two males to leave. These two males refused to leave and the police were called."

Michelle Saahene told NBC10 she was inside the store when responding officers spoke to the two men.

"The two young men politely asked why they were being asked to leave and were not given a reason other than that they hadn’t bought something," she said.

Saahene said more officers came in and repeatedly told the men they had to leave but the men refused.

"The two guys sat there calmly and said they hadn’t done anything wrong, and that they were there waiting for a friend," Saahene said. "The cops started to move chairs and tables out of the way that had been between them and the two men."

The officers then made the men stand up and handcuffed them, according to Saahene.

"They actually put them in handcuffs because they didn’t buy a f--- latte," Saahene said.

Saahene said a friend of the two men then walked in as the officers placed them in handcuffs and asked why they were being arrested, to which the officers replied, "trespassing."

"[The friend] said, 'But this is a public space. We’re in Starbucks. How is this considered trespassing?' The cops said the two men were not paying customers and thus were trespassing," Saahene said.

The officers then escorted the handcuffed men out of the Starbucks, according to Saahene.

"I’m black and it was just so, I was scared for them," she said. "I was so angry I was trembling. I was furious. I even approached the manager. ... I asked the barista why she called the cops on them."

Saahene said at no point did the two men get angry or raise their voices.

"Plenty of people hang out in Starbucks without buying something," Saahene said. "There was nothing about their appearance or behavior that posed a threat. The only possible explanation is their race."

Commissioner Ross defended his officers' actions, saying they did nothing wrong and followed policy.

"It is important to emphasize and underscore that these officers had legal standing to make this arrest," he said. "They were called to the scene because employees said they were trespassing."

But Kevin Johnson said it was wrong for the store to call police and promised to make any "necessary changes" to the company's practices.

"You should expect more from us," Johnson said, adding that he will be visiting Philadelphia and meeting with the regional manager in coming days.

The men, who have not been identified, were later released after Starbucks declined to press trespassing charges.

Riley Ross, a civil rights attorney not associated witht he incident, told NBC10 the two men who were arrested would have to prove a pattern of discrimination to have a legal case against Starbucks.

"If it's a privately owned business, they can tell you to leave," Ross said. "Now if it turns out that they're doing that for some discriminatory reason, that is against the law."

Ross also said he has other concerns about the incident besides legal ones.

"I don't see a 911 call that comes in and then there's no response and there's two white gentlemen there who are saying, 'I didn't order any coffee yet and I'm not ready to leave,'" Ross said. "I don't know that that's going to yield the show of force that we saw in this video."

The incident has gained national attention since video of it was posted on social media. Even Philadelphia native turned Hollywood actor Kevin Hart waded into the controversy, tweeting that Starbucks must "make this situation right."

Another protest at the Starbucks is set to take place Monday starting at 7 a.m. Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson will also join community leaders during a news conference outside the Starbucks at 4 p.m. to address the incident and "denounce racial profiling in places of public accomodation."

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