Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were waiting for business meeting and now left wondering how 12 April incident escalated
Two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks said they were just waiting for a business meeting and a week later still wonder how that could have escalated into a police encounter that left them fearing for their lives.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson spoke to the Associated Press in their first interview since video of their 12 April arrests went viral.
Robinson said he thought about his loved ones and how the afternoon had taken such a turn as he was taken to jail. Nelson wondered if he would make it home alive.
Anytime Im encountered by cops, I can honestly say its a thought that runs through my mind, Nelson said. You never know whats going to happen.
The arrests, recorded on a white customers cellphone video, galvanized people around the country who saw the exchange as an example of racism.
The men have met with the CEO of Starbucks and are pushing for meaningful change so what happened to them does not happen to anyone else.
Police this week released a recording of the call from the Starbucks employee that led to the arrest. In it, a woman is heard saying the men refused to make a purchase or leave.
Starbucks has promised to shut all 8,000 company-owned stores across the US on 29 May to train employees about unconscious bias.
Nelson initially brushed it off when the Starbucks manager told him he couldnt use the restroom because he wasnt a paying customer.
He thought nothing of it when he and Robinson, his business partner, were approached at their table and were asked if they needed help. The 23-year-old entrepreneurs declined, explaining they were just waiting for a business meeting.
A few minutes later, they hardly noticed when the police walked into the coffee shop until officers started walking in their direction.
Thats when we knew she called the police on us, Nelson said.
Nelson and Robinson, black men who became best friends in the fourth grade, were taken in handcuffs from the Starbucks in Philadelphias tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, where Robinson has been a customer since he was 15.
We were there for a real reason, a real deal that we were working on, Robinson explained. We put in a lot of time, energy, effort We were at a moment that could have a positive impact on a whole ladder of people, lives, families. So I was like, No, youre not stopping that right now.
The Democratic mayor, Jim Kenney, who is white, said what happened at the Starbucks appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018. The police commissioner, Richard Ross, who is black, said in a Facebook post that arresting officers did absolutely nothing wrong, and added that Nelson and Robinson were disrespectful to officers.
Ross said officers did what they were supposed to do and were professional in their dealings with the men, and instead they got the opposite back.
Nelson and Robinson originally were supposed to meet Andrew Yaffe, a white local businessman, at a Starbucks across town. But the plan changed, and they agreed to meet at the Rittenhouse Square location, where they had met several times before on a potential real estate opportunity.
The black men arrived a few minutes early. Three police officers showed up not long after.
Nelson said they were not questioned but were told to leave immediately.
Yaffe showed up as the men were being handcuffed. He can be seen in the video demanding an explanation for the officers actions. Nelson and Robinson did not resist arrest, confused and unsure of what to think or what might happen next.
When you know that you did nothing wrong, how do you really react to it? Nelson said. 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.
It was hardly their first encounter with police, a rite of passage that becomes a regular occurrence for many black men their age. But neither had been arrested before, setting them apart from many of their peers in the gritty south-west Philadelphia neighborhood where they grew up.
Attorney Stewart Cohen, representing Nelson and Robinson, said the men were illegally profiled. He pointed to Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in hotels, restaurants, theaters and other public accommodations.
Seattle-based Starbucks has said the location where the arrests occurred has a policy that restrooms are for paying customers only.
Nelson and Robinson spent hours in a jail cell with no outside contact and no sense of what would happen next. They were released after midnight, when the district attorney declined to prosecute them for trespassing. They had no idea the video of their arrests was making the rounds on the internet.
Over the weekend, attention and outrage over the video grew, prompting a protest at the local Starbucks restaurant and a national boycott. By Monday, the men were set to meet with Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, to discuss what happened.
Johnson has responded quickly to public outcry around the arrests, calling them reprehensible, apologizing and ordering stores closed for mandatory training to tackle unconscious bias.
Nelson and Robinson said they are looking for more lasting results and are in mediation proceedings with Starbucks to implement changes, including the posting in stores of a customer bill of rights; the adoption of new policies regarding customer ejections, racial profiling and racial discrimination; and independent investigations of complaints of profiling or discrimination from customers and employees.
Robinson said he appreciates the public support the men have received but anger and boycotting Starbucks are not the solution.
We need a different type of action not words, he said. Its a time to pay attention and understand whats really going on. We do want a seat at the table.
The two men were also interviewed on ABCs Good Morning America on Thursday.
I want to make sure that this doesnt happen again, Robinson said. So what I want is for a young man or young men to not be traumatized by this and instead motivated, inspired.
Asked what the men thought about criticism that they had violated the stores rules, he said: Rules are rules, what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong.