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Starbucks describes its locations as third spaces - not your home or the office, but another place where everyone is supposed to feel welcomed. So when a Starbucks employee in Philadelphia called the cops on two black men just sitting in the shop, it raised a lot of uncomfortable questions for the company. NPR's Joel Rose has been talking with people in Philly after yesterday's announcement that Starbucks will retrain thousands of its employees.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: It's back to business as usual, more or less, at the store in Philadelphia where the arrests happened. But once in a while people walking by on sidewalk slow down and peek from the window. That's where I met Troy Jackson (ph).
TROY JACKSON: It's like, being a black male sometimes - I'm being honest - it's like you're looked upon as being a threat just by waking up in the morning, trying to buy a cup of coffee.
ROSE: Jackson lives in Philadelphia. He's a therapist. And what's captured in the video of those arrests, Jackson says, is not unique.
JACKSON: I think it totally shows those microaggressions that occur to all people, but particularly black males, sometimes that go unheard, that go unseen.
ROSE: The video shows two black men being led out of the store in handcuffs. Sherrilyn Ifill heads the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She spoke to NPR's Morning Edition.
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SHERRILYN IFILL: It's part of a very, very long story about African-Americans and how we are treated in public spaces and retail establishments, and I think unfortunately that video for many of us was too familiar.
ROSE: Ifill will help shape the training for Starbucks employees to prevent racial bias. The company's CEO Kevin Johnson has apologized repeatedly for what happened in Philadelphia. Here he is on ABC's "Good Morning America."
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KEVIN JOHNSON: Starbucks was built as a company that creates a warm, welcoming environment for all customers. That didn't happen in this case.
ROSE: For years, Starbucks has described its stores as a third space, a quasi-public place where anyone is welcome to hang out. But the rules about that third space are murky, which is how unconscious bias and discrimination can creep in.
BRYANT SIMON: Hiding beneath the veneer of Starbucks' welcoming-ness has always been a kind of exclusion. And Starbucks isn't alone in that.
ROSE: Bryant Simon has spent hundreds of hours in Starbucks. He visited more than 300 stores across the country when he was writing a book called, "Everything But The Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks." I met him at a coffee shop in Philadelphia, where he teaches at Temple University. No, it wasn't a Starbucks. And, yes, we bought coffee. But when he was doing his research, Simon says, he didn't always do that.
SIMON: I would normally sit for a while, sometimes as much as five hours.
ROSE: And would you occasionally use the restroom without buying anything?
SIMON: All the time.
ROSE: Simon, who is white, says he was never challenged about it, but he did see other people confronted about whether they had bought anything. Simon says they fell into two categories, people who appeared to be homeless, and black men. Joel Rose, NPR News, Philadelphia.
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