PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, under heavy criticism for the arrests of two 23-year-old Philadelphia men at a Starbucks near Rittenhouse Square a week ago and his defense of the police action, apologized to the men Thursday and said he had made the situation worse.
In a hastily arranged news conference at Police Headquarters, Ross said he was unaware that people sit inside Starbucks for hours. “I apologize,” he said in remarks intended for Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the men arrested for sitting in the store without making a purchase.
“Shame on me” if I have done anything to perpetuate racism, Ross said, adding that no one had told him he should apologize.
Ross said a new policy will be announced on how the Police Department will respond to similar calls. One reason, he said, is so that officers will not be manipulated by businesses. He said he was not sure if that happened in this instance.
The commissioner, who is black, said the number of officers responding to the call was not excessive.
Ross said it was the wrong for him to have said in a Facebook Live video on Sunday that the “officers did not do anything wrong.” Still, he said they followed the law.
Ross said he does not believe the officers acted in a racist manner. “They were put in an untenable position,” Ross said of the officers.
“As for the manager, that’s a different ballgame,” he said of the Starbucks manager, who has since been removed.
Ross said he was offering “my sincere apologies to these gentleman” who were arrested and to the officers involved. “It just comes back to the notion that I have to do better, we have to do better,” he said.
The two men arrested — an event that sparked national outrage, public apologies, and a racial-bias training program at the coffee chain’s 8,000 U.S. cafes — called for change in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America that aired Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia lawyer Michael Coard, an activist and columnist for the African American newspaper the Philadelphia Tribune, criticized Ross late Wednesday night on Facebook.
“In Philly, following the Starbucks Waiting While Black fiasco,” Coard wrote on his personal Facebook page, “Commissioner Richard Ross said the officers ‘did absolutely nothing wrong’ by arresting the two men because ‘if a business calls the police and says someone is here that it no longer wishes to be inside that business,’ then that someone has committed the nonviolent crime of trespass. But what he meant is ‘The cops who arrested … Dr. King for sitting-in at white-owned restaurants during the 1960s did absolutely nothing wrong because he committed the nonviolent crime of trespass.'” Coard used the N-word in referring to King.
A widely shared video posted by user @MissyDePino shows the two men being taken away in handcuffs. The incident put the Seattle-based coffee chain in the center of controversy, while protests in front of the store at 1801 Spruce St. ensued for three days over the weekend and Monday.
In interviews Wednesday with the Inquirer and Daily News, neighbors on the block of Bonnaffon Street in Elmwood where Nelson grew up spoke highly of him.
“I’m sure his lawyers told him not to say anything because this is a civil rights case,” said John Gossett, 48, who lives two houses from Nelson’s home.
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