Black Men Arrested at Starbucks: It ‘Didn’t Really’ Hit Us Until We Were in Handcuffs

Rashon Nelson, left, and Donte Robinson, right, both 23, sit in their attorney's conference room as they pose for a portrait following an interview with the Associated Press Wednesday April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia. Their arrests at a local Starbucks quickly became a viral video and galvanized people around the …
AP/Jacqueline Larma

The two 23-year-old black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks last week broke their silence Thursday and spoke out about the incident that spurred people to protest Starbucks for its “racism” against the men.

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson sat down for interviews with ABC’s Good Morning America and the Associated Press Thursday to discuss the incident, with one of the men revealing that he did not realize the gravity of the situation until he was in handcuffs.

“I was just trying to process the situation to myself at the time because I’m thinking about my family, that I have my community, so in that moment I’m trying to process what’s going on because it didn’t really hit me what was going on—that it was real—until I’m being double locked and my hands are behind my back,” Robinson said.

The two men said that they showed up to the coffee shop ten minutes early to a 4:45 p.m. meeting when Nelson asked the employee to use the restroom.

The store manager replied, telling Nelson that only “paying customers” could use the restroom.

“I just left it at that at that moment,” Nelson told Good Morning America, adding that he decided to sit down and wait until the meeting began.

“We’re at the table, we sit down, we’re just talking amongst each other. She comes from around the register and walks up to ask if she can help us with anything, can we start with some drinks, or water, or something like that,” Robinson says.

Two minutes after they arrived at the store, the store manager called 911 and told the police that two men refused “to make a purchase.”

When the two of them noticed the three officers walk into the store, they did not realize that the officers had been coming for them. Nelson and Robinson added that the store’s employees never asked them to leave.

Nelson said the officers told them they had to leave the premises “immediately” without asking any questions first.

“As soon as they approached us they just said we have to leave. There was no question of ‘was there a problem here between you and the manager?'” Nelson said.

The two men said they did not resist arrest even as the officers did not explain to them the charges against them.

“We wasn’t read any rights. Nothing, just double lock handcuffs behind our backs and escorted out and put in a squad car,” Robinson said.

“When you know that you did nothing wrong, how do you really react to it?” Nelson told the Associated Press. “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.”

Although the police arrested Nelson and Robinson for trespassing, no charges were filed against them.

Once video footage of the encounter went viral on social media, many people called for a boycott of the coffee chain on Twitter.

Starbucks responded to the incident by sending its CEO to Philadelphia Monday to personally apologize to the men and announced it would close 8,000 of its stores for “racial bias training” for an afternoon next month.

A Starbucks spokesperson said the manager who called the police is “no longer at that store,” but did not elaborate on the specifics of the employee’s removal from the store.

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