FULL INTERVIEW: "This is something that has been going on for years...everyone is blind to it."— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 19, 2018
Rashon Nelson & Donte Robinson, the 2 black men arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, speak out exclusively to @RobinRoberts: https://t.co/bIBmMGlwWN pic.twitter.com/IZekmHrWw2
Two black men arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks are now speaking out about the incident that sparked a nationwide discussion on racism and led to the company announcing it would close all company-owned stores for an afternoon next month to conduct racial-bias training.
Business partners and longtime friends Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were waiting in the coffee shop last week to meet a local white businessman about a real estate opportunity when the store manager started growing suspicious of them.
The Starbucks manager first refused to allow Nelson to use the bathroom because he wasn't a paying customer. Shortly thereafter, Starbucks staff approached them at their table asking if they needed help with anything. Then, three police officers walked in and started walking in the direction of the two men.
“That’s when we knew she called the police on us,” Nelson told The Associated Press.
A video of the incident, taken by another customer as Nelson and Robinson were being handcuffed, went viral on social media. Andrew Yaffe, the businessman who was meeting the two men, showed up mid-arrest and asks in the video what the men were being charged with.
Neither of the men had been arrested before and did not resist arrest after police demanded they leave. Robinson insisted that they “did absolutely nothing wrong" and said he and Nelson were respectful to the officers.
“When you know that you did nothing wrong, how do you really react to it?” said Nelson. “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.”
Nelson told the AP that he feared for his life when the police showed up, saying "it's a thought that runs through my mind" anytime he has encounters police. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Ultimately, the district attorney's office decided not to press charges for trespassing due to a lack of evidence, but the incident had already sent shockwaves through the community and the nation.
The store in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, where Nelson has reportedly been going since he was 15, saw several protests against racial injustice in recent days.
On Monday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson met with the men in person to apologize and help understand the situation. In a company statement, Johnson also announced the chain would close more than 8,000 company-owned stores for mandatory implicit bias education for employees.
But Robinson hopes the incident will help shed some light on racial justice issues still present in society.
“It’s a time to pay attention and understand what’s really going on. We do want a seat at the table," he said.