Last Thursday, two African-American men waited in a Philadelphia-area Starbucks for a business meeting to begin. They had not yet made a purchase, which prompted the store manager to call police, who then arrested the pair for trespassing. The incident—which many believe was racially motivated—sparked outrage and conversation across the country.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson told their story Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“I want to make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again,” Robinson said. “What I want is for a young man, young men, to not be traumatized by this and instead motivated, inspired.”
According to TIME magazine, Nelson and Robinson were waiting in the coffee shop last week for a third person to join them in a meeting about a real estate deal. While they waited, Nelson attempted to use the restroom, but an employee who said only paying customers were allowed to do so denied the request. Another person reportedly approached the men sitting at a table and asked if they needed help. Moments later, police officers entered the café and approached the two men.
A witness recorded the ensuing arrest, and the video has gone viral on social media over the past week. Nelson and Robinson spent several hours in jail after being taken into custody.
With 0ngoing tensions between police and African American communities in the city, Nelson just hoped he would survive the police encounter.
“Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind,” Nelson revealed. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
No one was injured in the incident.
Starbucks’ official policy states that only customers can use restroom facilities in the corporation’s retail locations, though in practice that rule is rarely enforced. Nelson and Robinson believe they were racially profiled by the store’s manager, a white woman.
“When you know that you did nothing wrong, how do you really react to it?” he continued. “You can either be ignorant or you can show some type of sophistication and act like you have class. That was the choice we had.”
Public protests and boycotts were organized by communities across the nation within days. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson met with the men Monday to personally apologize for what happened to them. On Tuesday, the company announced in a statement that all US stores will close during the afternoon of May 29 when “partners will go through a training program designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that it was Donte Robinson who attempted to use the restroom. It was Rashon Nelson.
[Feature image: Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson/ABC video screenshot]