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A Starbucks in California treats black and white men differently, according to accuser’s video

Starbucks said it takes the video of the Torrance incident "and the commentary surrounding it" seriously.
(Hector Retamal / AFP/Getty Images)

A second allegation of racial bias at Starbucks has surfaced — this time in the Los Angeles area — in the days since two black men were arrested while waiting at one of the coffee chain’s Philadelphia stores.

A video, taken at a Starbucks store in Torrance in January, shows a black man claiming he was denied access to a bathroom while a white man was given the entry code. Neither of the men was a paying customer.

The video emerged amid outrage over the Philadelphia arrests, which protesters said exemplified the racial disparities that still exist in this country. The arrests, which occurred last week, led Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson to personally apologize to the men involved and announce that more than 8,000 U.S. Starbucks stores will be closed May 29 so that nearly 175,000 employees can receive “racial-bias education” training.

In the Torrance incident, the black man recording the video — whom KABC-TV identified as 26-year-old Brandon Ward — asks a white man who used the bathroom whether he had any trouble obtaining the entry code. Ward said the Starbucks workers had refused to give him the code.

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“Have you purchased anything in here today?” Ward asks the man.

“No, but I was just about to,” the man said.

“But before you made a purchase they let you use the restroom?” Ward asks.

“I just asked for the code,” the man said.

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“You asked for the code, and they gave it to you, right?” Ward asks. “Before you made the purchase?”

That’s right, the man indicated. Ward went to the coffee bar to address the discrepancy, talking to a woman who identified herself as the store manager. She told him to stop recording.

“This is a private business,” she told Ward. Ward kept recording.

“You are actually not allowed to be in here anymore. You need to leave,” she told Ward.

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“Is it my skin color?” Ward asked her. “Is it my skin color?”

The video, which Ward posted to his Facebook page two days after the Philadelphia incident, had more than 700,000 views by Wednesday morning. Activist Shaun King posted it to Twitter, where it was retweeted more than 40,000 times.

In a statement, a Starbucks spokeswoman said the company takes the video of the Torrance incident “and the commentary surrounding it” seriously.

“[We] are working closely with the team to learn from our mistakes,” she said. “We are fully investigating our store practices and guidelines across the company. In addition to our own review, we will work with outside experts and community leaders to understand and adopt best practices, including unconscious bias training.”

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Starbucks said the training curriculum planned for its employees next month will be developed with input from national and local experts on confronting racial bias. They include Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.; Heather McGhee, president of policy center Demos; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

Ward acknowledged Starbucks’ apologies but said they are useless until the company changes its behavior.

“If you have a policy, you should abide by those guidelines for everyone,” he told KABC-TV. “You can’t sit here and segregate things, so you might as well put on the store with your policy, ‘whites only,’ at the end.”

On Thursday, at about 4:37 p.m. at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, a female employee called police to report “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” according to the 911 call, which was released Tuesday. Officers arrived at the Starbucks about 4:41, according to the tape, and at 4:44, officers requested backup and a supervisor for “a group of males causing a disturbance.”

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By 5 p.m., the officers were headed to their headquarters with two arrests.

The tense arrests were captured on at least two cellphone videos, which showed at least six Philadelphia police officers standing over two seated black men, asking them to leave. One officer said that the men were not complying and were being arrested for trespassing. One of the videos had more than 10 million views by Tuesday afternoon.

The men were held for nine hours before they were released, said criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer, who represented the men over the weekend when they potentially faced charges. No charges were filed, authorities said.

That Starbucks store was closed temporarily because of protests outside but reopened Tuesday morning.

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