More than once I’ve entered a Starbucks coffee shop, walked by the sign reading “restrooms for customers only,” and used the restroom without making a purchase. The only consequence I suffered was feeling a little guilty. Certainly no law enforcement was beckoned.
In April 2018, two black men were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. They were waiting for a friend and had not yet made a purchase. One man asked for the code to use the restroom. The white woman manager asked them to leave, then called the cops when they didn’t. Even when the friend arrived, police still handcuffed and arrested the men for trespassing. The manager called the cops within two minutes of the men’s arrival. The men were detained for more than eight hours.
No private business is obliged to provide free space for non-patrons. What we need to reckon with is who is considered to be trespassing or loitering. Far too often people of color in white spaces is enough to be considered a disturbance.
As a white person, it’s hard for me to believe that a cop would arrest someone for simply sitting—because this hasn’t and wouldn’t happen to me. I can walk around a store in baggy pants and a hoodie without fear of security following me. I can find hair care products for my hair in that store, makeup that matches my skin tone, magazines with pictures of women who look like me. I can find stories by and about white people in all school textbooks, in almost every movie theater and on all major television networks. I’m not kept up at night fearing that my son will be shot and killed by a police officer for playing with a squirt gun. I can sit in Starbucks and not make anyone uncomfortable simply because I exist.
We are making progress. But we are not there yet.
Keep listening. Keep believing. Keep advocating. Keep taking care of one another. The work for racial justice is hard, but it is right. Keep putting your faith, love and hope into action, and we will get there.