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Rashon Nelson, left, and Donte Robinson, right, listen to a reporter’s question during an interview with The Associated Press in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rashon Nelson initially brushed it off when the Starbucks manager told him he couldn’t use the restroom because he wasn’t a paying customer.

He thought nothing of it when he and his business partner, Donte Robinson, 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.

“That’s when we knew she called the police on us,” Nelson told The Associated Press in the men’s first interview since video of their April 12 arrests went viral.

Nelson and Robinson, black men who became best friends in the fourth grade, were taken in handcuffs from the Starbucks in Philadelphia’s tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, where Robinson has been a customer since he was 15.

The video, recorded on a white customer’s cellphone, galvanized people around the country who saw the exchange as modern-day racism. In the week since, the men have met with Starbucks’ CEO and have started pushing for lasting changes to ensure what happened to them doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“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, you’re not stopping that right now.'”

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’d make it home alive.

“Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind,” Nelson said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, who is white, said what happened at the Starbucks “appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.” Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who’s black, said in a Facebook video 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.”

Rashon Nelson

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’d 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 weren’t 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.

“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 southwest Philadelphia neighborhood where they grew up.

Robinson briefly wondered what he might’ve done to bring the moment on himself.

“I feel like I fell short,” he explained. “I’m trying to think of something I did wrong, to put not just me but my brother, my lifelong friend … in this situation.”

Donte Robinson

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 Corp. 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 would soon make the rounds on the internet.

The day after their arrests, they thought about what to do next.

“You go from being someone who’s just trying to be an entrepreneur, having your own dreams and aspirations, and then this happens,” Nelson said. “How do you handle it? Do you stand up? Do you fight? Do you sit down and just watch everyone else fight for you? Do you let it slide, like we let everything else slide with injustice?”

Robinson, still focused on the previous day’s business deal, called Yaffe to reschedule. Yaffe told him about the video and the traction it had gotten.

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 May 29 for mandatory training to tackle unconscious bias.

Nelson and Robinson said they’re 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. “It’s a time to pay attention and understand what’s really going on. We do want a seat at the table.”

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25 thoughts on “Men Arrested At Starbucks Say They Feared For Their Lives

  1. patricia baker on said:

    If possible, can these young men sue Starbucks for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, discrimination based upon race? I would ask for nothing less than 30 million and settle for 10 million. Plus free coffee and pastries for life.

    Not to make light of the situation, but this was a horrible experience, to be publicly humiliated, arrested in handcuffs, held in a jail cell not knowing what was going to happen while they were there or how long they would be there? What if it were you or your sons? Bad. Very bad.

  2. SheCat54 on said:

    Are they gay? Another annoying disgrace about brown skin men. They only want ugly peckerwood men and women. God is disappointed with the brown skin men.

  3. SheCat54 on said:

    It’s really a dam shame how brown skin men act like punks around peckerwoods. Everythings not about money how about self respect, honor, loyalty to yourself and your race. Brown skin don’t have a chance because the brown skin men are weak and have no back bone. Peckerwoods arrested your asses and you get one to be your lawyer,how stupid and weak is that. I know there are some brown skin lawyers out there and the only way they are going to become strong in their field is if we allow them to work for us. Them peckerwood lawyers will walk away with more money than the both of you. Brown skin men are weak!

  4. QUEEN on said:

    she was just racist, point, blank and the period..u hear the white customers saying they have been doing the same thing and no one asked them to leave. glad she is not there anymore,and may this follow her everywhere. hit em in the pockets….

  5. Christianforreal on said:

    Real Talk, Sharon Davis, ever since Starbucks opened it’s doors!! Jhuf and Ciscokid, let’s cut the crap. You white boys can be in the very same situation and you are perp-walked out to a waiting patrol car. Just like the young white man who walked in a church and killed 9 people and lived through his trial. When your crazy brothers shoot and kill mass people, the only reason they don’t make it to the jailhouse, escorted by the police, is because they shoot themselves. Let’s stop pretending that the board we play on is level, because WE ALL know better.

    • jhuff on said:

      well if those “home boys” in the projects would shoot themselves BF cops got them that would cut down on the death rate of YBY’s in America too

  6. LYRICAH on said:

    I’m sorry – if you don’t call it racism why should we”?” Get rid of that white lawyer and speak the truth dammit. Robin acts as if it’s something new. Things we do for a check never seems to amaze me – we must do better.

  7. americanize on said:

    Umm.Seams like these two brothers are prep for getting a check from starbucks.Not one of them had the backbone to say this was a racial situation,it took the white woman who film it to say so.And the white supremacist manager moves on.

  8. CiscoKid on said:

    When you are on someone else’s property and they ask you to leave and you refuse, you are trespassing. If they call the police, it is their duty to remove you if you continue to refuse to leave someone else’s property. These men escalated the whole thing (I think deliberately) by not respecting Starbucks’ policy and property. They could have waited outside for their friend (as I have done MANY times) before going in for their “meeting.” Or they could have simply purchased a cup of coffee or a bottle of water, as many others have done. Starbucks is in the business of SELLING things, not providing free meeting spaces.

      • vdabney722 on said:

        Or Starbucks, or department stores, or quick outs, or in their cars, or down the street of any white neighborhood in America, (especially trailer parks). The place they feel SAFEST is in black neighborhoods–that is until the cops show up.

    • CiscoKid on said:

      Yes indeed! Especially if he’s reaching in his waistband, resisting arrest, running, refusing to follow lawful orders, point a gun, charging at an officer, …

      • Or Dining While Black, you POS! Anyone else can sit there and wait for a guest without being profiled, but when a Black person does this they are arrested. Then Rednecks like you run your mouth about what they should have done. You white folks shouldn’t have done a lot of shit including enslave and persecute others, idiot!

      • Passing Through!! on said:

        Or if you’re in a white suburban high school waiting to get picked off by some rouge white male shooter with a machine gun which now days is just as dangerous as walking through the hood.

      • vdabney722 on said:

        Which RARELY happens. Most black men who have been shot were NOT resisting arrest, and you know it. Some couldn’t breathe and were fighting for air, some were in the back of cruisers, some were just walking down the street, and the cops thought his cell phone or wallet was a gun and shot them 15 to 20 times. Some were in their back yards, others were in the car with their wife and child. Some were holding TOY guns and were shot within 30 seconds, no questions asked. And yes, some ran, BUT they were running AWAY and shot in the back, yet police LIED and said they “feared for their lives”. Get Outta Here. You are in Deep denial, and nobody wants to hear your Nonsense.

  9. On Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 12:02 PM Black America Web wrote:

    > bawdiannahwatson posted: ” PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rashon Nelson initially > brushed it off when the Starbucks manager told him he couldn’t use the > restroom because he wasn’t a paying customer. He thought nothing of it when > he and his business partner, Donte Robinson, were approac” >

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