A video showing Philadelphia police officers handcuffing and removing two black men from a Starbucks store has gone viral and incited allegations of racism, but the police commissioner insists his officers did “absolutely nothing wrong.”
Author Melissa DePino tweeted a video on Thursday showing officers escorting two black men out of a Starbucks in Center City as bystanders questioned why the men were being arrested.
“The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything,” DePino wrote on Twitter. “They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”
DePino told local news outlet Billy Penn that the incident happened around 4:30 p.m. Thursday and that a friend of hers shot the video.
The clip shows a man in a vest questioning why an arrest is taking place. Lauren A. Wimmer, defense attorney for the pair who was arrested, told BuzzFeed that the man in the vest is Andrew Yaffe, a friend who was meeting the men at Starbucks. She declined to give the names of her two clients.
“What did they get called for?” Yaffe asks an officer in the video. “’Cause there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”
Another voice can be heard saying, “They didn’t do anything. I saw the entire thing.”
Wimmer told BuzzFeed that a white female manager at the store had asked the pair to leave when they came in and did not order anything. According to Wimmer, the men said they were waiting to meet someone, and the manager called the police.
Philly Voice pointed to a second, longer video uploaded to YouTube that shows an officer telling Yaffe that the other two individuals were being arrested for “trespassing.” Yaffe calls what the officers are doing “discrimination.”
In an interview with Philly Magazine, DePino, who filmed the first video, said she was sitting “very close” to the two men.
She said a “girl behind the counter” had apparently called 911 before the cops arrived and told the men they were “trespassing.”
“They guys wanted to know what they did,” DePino told the magazine. “And then more cops and more cops and more cops show up.”
DePino said other customers in the store asked both the cops and the employee why the men were being arrested.
“And then they freaking put them in handcuffs and perp-walked them out the freaking store,” she told Philly Magazine. “These guys never raised their voices. They never did anything remotely aggressive.”
DePino also said she would not return to the Starbucks location in light of the arrest.
Ben Waxman, a spokesman for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, told HuffPost that the two men were released at 1:30 a.m. Friday. He said the DA will not bring charges against them.
“We declined to bring charges against the two men because there was a lack of evidence that a crime was committed,” Waxman said.
The Philadelphia Police Department did not reply to a request for comment from HuffPost, but Police Commissioner Richard Ross said in a Facebook Live video posted Saturday afternoon that the officers “did absolutely nothing wrong.” They responded to the scene, he said, after receiving a 911 call reporting “a disturbance” and “trespassing.”
Starbucks employees told the responding officers that the two men had asked to use the restroom, Ross said. Employees said they told the pair that the restroom was only for paying customers and asked them to leave, and the pair allegedly refused. The men allegedly told the employees to go ahead and call the police.
According to Ross, police “politely” asked the pair to leave several times and they continued to refuse and behaved rudely toward the officers. The officers, he said, did everything right.
“They followed policy. They did what they were supposed to do. They were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen,” the commissioner said.
“As an African-American man, I am very aware of implicit bias,” Ross added, noting that all officers in the police force receive “implicit bias training.”
The video can be watched in full below:
When asked for comment from HuffPost, a Starbucks spokesman pointed to the company’s statements on Twitter.
“We apologize to the two individuals and our customers and are disappointed this led to an arrest,” Starbuck’s statement reads. “We take these matters seriously and clearly have more work to do when it comes to how we handle incidents in our stores.” The statement also said the company would be reviewing its policies.
Later Saturday, CEO Kevin Johnson apologized in a statement, saying the company has “begun a thorough investigation of our practices.” Johnson said he and the regional vice president plan to meet with Philadelphia community leaders and law enforcement and “hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested.”
“Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did,” Johnson said in the statement.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the incident left him “heartbroken” and “appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.”
He said Starbucks’ apology for the incident was insufficient, and he has asked Ross to review the police department’s policies about responses to similar complaints.
“I believe a thorough review is fully warranted given the unfortunate outcome of this event, particularly at a time when our criminal justice reform efforts are focused on avoiding needless incarcerations,” Kenney added.
This story has been updated with comment from Philadelphia’s mayor.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted the man in the vest as saying, “’Cause there are two black guys sitting here eating?” He actually said, “’Cause there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”