How Should We Respond To The Crime Of Sitting While Black?

What if I would have been the one sitting at an empty table waiting for a friend that day?

Two black men were arrested in Philadelphia on Thursday for sitting in a Starbucks and attempting to use the restroom while waiting on a friend. Yes, you read that right. They weren’t trying to rob the Starbucks. They weren’t harassing customers. They weren’t disturbing the peace. They were simply waiting for a friend. It appears that the only crime that these men committed in that Starbucks was failure to order a Hazelnut Mocha Coconutmilk Macchiato.

Their arrest was caught on camera and has since gone viral.

It’s at this point in the narrative that many of my fellow caucasians revert to the standard reactions.

“I’m sure that there’s more to this story.”

“Those guys had to have been up to something.”

“It’s the company policy and rules are rules. If they wanted to be in there or use the restroom, they should have bought something.”

But here’s the problem. If it would have been me, a white, forty-something male with ravishing good looks and an award winning smile walking into that restaurant to use the restroom and wait for a friend, this wouldn’t be a story. How do I know? Because I do it all the time.

I meet people at coffee shops and don’t order anything because, please forgive me, I’m not a big coffee fan.

I’ve walked into gas stations, swanky boutiques, and hotel lobbies that would not be receiving one penny from me just to use their super clean restrooms.

And no one has ever said a word to me.

That’s because, and many from my circles won’t like this, we really are living in two different Americas.

The men in the viral video who were arrested and later released because, well, they didn’t do anything wrong, were not thugs. They were in the real estate business. And the only thing they were up to was meeting a friend.

There have been many responses to the arrests of those two men. The CEO of Starbucks has apologized. Protestors have gathered. The police commissioner has defended the actions of his officers. The mayor has called for a thorough investigation.

But what about you? And me? How should we respond?

You could ignore what happened and carry on repeating the old mantras of your tribe that help you to sleep better at night and look yourself in the mirror in the morning while living in a world where men are arrested for the terrible crime of sitting while black.

There is a better way.


Empathy is the ability to relate to another person’s situation. It’s an ability that is in short supply these days. We prefer tribalism. Tribalism is the condition of living in a vacuum where you only hear what confirms what you want to be true while ignoring the thoughts and trials of those outside of your tribe.

Tribalism is tearing our country apart.

It’s easy for people like me to pretend that racism doesn’t exist or that it somehow disappeared when we elected a black president. That’s primarily due to the fact that we’ve never experienced what those two men experienced in Starbucks that day. Our kids can wear hoodies home from school without being labeled as thugs. We can sit at an empty table without having the police called on us. But not everyone enjoys those privileges. And if we really care about peace and unity, we’ll stop ignoring the plight of those who suffer in ways that we only thought existed in movies set in the 1960s south.

To put it another way, we’ll be empathetic.

No amount of activism, Twitter rants and government laws will ever truly end racism in this country. Those things have their place but they can only do so much. Slogans about being colorblind and misguided attempts to label every problem a race problem only make matters worse.

If we really want to see race relations improve, we have to address them where they begin—the human heart.

And before we look at the hearts of our neighbors, we must look at our own. We must be honest about the times when we embrace our tribe at the expense of our neighbor whose only crime was waiting for a friend. We must instead embrace an ethic of empathy that at least tries to listen to those with experiences that are alien to us.

Or we could just classify every black person who gets arrested unjustly as a thug who had it coming and keep pretending that there’s not a problem.

But that wouldn’t be empathetic.

It would just be pathetic.

In terms of your example, considering I supported Roy Moore and Trump their assessment would probably be far closer to the truth than not. How others choose to view my allegiances is their prerogative. While I may not agree with their assessment I agree they have the right to make it. And can demand no more of them than I would offer them in their place.

The article takes umbrage at the fact a Barista would be more concerned with a loitering black male of a certain dress and demeanor than a clean-cut forty something white male. But one of those is far more likely to cause a problem. And instead of attempting to address why the two are disparate in order to eliminate those differences its point is to merely scold people for noticing. And that doesn't seem a productive way to fix anything.

That, ironically, the article doesn't seem to have a lot of empathy for those he disagrees with. Or why they might feel the way they do.

"Two black men were arrested in Philadelphia on Thursday for sitting in a Starbucks and attempting to use the restroom while waiting on a friend. Yes, you read that right. " You may have READ that right, but that's not what happened. What happened was that two black men were asked to leave a Starbucks, and refused. As the narrative conveniently neglects to tell us how they were asked to leave, or how they treated the employee who asked them to leave, we don't know why that employee then asked for help from the police. But no, they were not arrested for merely sitting in a Starbucks and attempting to use the restroom while waiting for a friend. That is the kind of lie that stirs up the wholly predictable victimhood industry hysteria that followed. The article states that the Starbucks employee called 911 "... because two black men were sitting inside the café. ..." Oh, come on! That doesn't even begin to pass a smell test. So why does the newspaper reporter lie? Only later is there an admission that the police were called after the men refused to leave. The article states that this was because the men were black. Did the employee say that was why he or she called the police---because the men were black? Or was there another reason, such as belligerence or hostility, that made the employee feel threatened? Funny how the newspaper skips over details like that. "It appears that the only crime that these men committed in that Starbucks was failure to order a Hazelnut Mocha Coconutmilk Macchiato." This is the kind of absolute crap that passes for reporting these days---smug, snarky and invented to try to shift an emotional response in the direction the writer wants it to go, a complete lie. I don't know how the men reacted to the request to leave. I don't even know if they were flat-out asked to leave or asked to buy something if they were going to stay. No one knows because that is not the kind of information that feeds an agenda narrative. We do know that a black customer, who admitted to being nervous just because police walked in the door, indicating a pre-existing bias, then accosted the Starbucks employee in what her account seems to be a pretty hostile and aggressive manner, and then (after moving to the other side of the room) screamed at her that she (the employee) was a "coward". We eventually find out that the men then refused the request by law enforcement officers to leave, and were then escorted from the restaurant in handcuffs. Were they really arrested? Or is it policy to restrain belligerent people until they are moved to a place where they are not likely to hurt anyone? Again, information not given. We are just told the men were "arrested"----and only for "..failure to order a Hazelnut Mocha Coconutmilk Macchiato." This isn't even yellow journalism, this is pure outrageous muckraking to advance an agenda. We are told the men in question were just real estate guys waiting for a business associate, but the photo does not show someone dressed in business attire. Maybe sandersjay should write that the Starbucks employee should be fired (or much, much worse) for having a faulty crystal ball that didn't let her know these were businessmen. That would make as much sense as the rest of the rant. What should WE do when something like this happens? Well, the first thing to do is what the author, and the newspaper article, refused to do, and that is learn what really happened. Then we should realize that even if the Starbucks employee WAS motivated by some racial animus (not proved) this is one person, in one store, in one city, in one state, and that her boss---not just her boss, but the CEO OF THE ENTIRE CHAIN----has apologized profusely and repeatedly. And we should reject all victimhood glamorization and manipulation. At the heart of this story is three people, period. Not an institution, not a whole coffee shop chain, not the whole white race, not a whole police department. One employee MAY have overreacted, two customers MAY have responded inappropriately. Give them all a time out, say it was a mistake (because it was) and move on. Don't make a huge national hysterical deal out of it, and please don't pretend that a sign saying "coffee is black, not blonde" is relevant to anything but one person's pathology.