Starbucks and Tempe Meet After Barista Asked Cops to Leave

Starbucks and Tempe Meet After Barista Asked Cops to Leave
Flickr via Brian Wilkins
Starbucks representatives met with Tempe Police Department officials Sunday and are continuing meetings today to try to smooth relations after a barista asked cops to either move away from a customer who was nervous about their presence or leave the shop.

Rob Ferraro, Tempe police union president, said that on July 4, a barista asked six Tempe police officers to either move out of the line of sight of a customer who said he felt unsafe, or leave the establishment.

The encounter drew national attention and prompted calls from Arizona lawmakers and conservative commentators to boycott Starbucks.

"Unacceptable. Respect our brave police officers! #BackTheBlue #DumpStarbucks," the Arizona Republican Party tweeted.

"So I'm wondering what the person who complained will do if they get robbed or assaulted? Who are you going to call then? Safe spaces aren't going to save you!" said Bret Roberts, a Republican state representative who previously worked for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio shared a Fox News story about the Starbucks barista ousting Tempe officers with a cryptic and ominous tweet stating, "This isn't going away until you say it ends. The politicians are working hand in hand with the extremist to destroy those who protect us."

Others said that instead of excoriating Starbucks for the actions of one barista, people should examine why it is that some people feel unsafe around police.

"Maybe people should ask themselves why it is that American citizens are increasingly feeling uncomfortable with police presence," wrote one Twitter user.

"Yeah... it's Starbucks & the Customer who are acting out of line here," said author and human rights activist Qasim Rashid alongside a screenshot of an investigation by the Arizona Republic into police shootings in Arizona.
According to the Tempe Police Association, the incident happened after six officers "paid for their drinks and stood together having a cup of coffee before their long 4th of July shift. They were approached by a barista, who knew one of the officers by name, because he is a regular at that location. The barista said that a customer 'did not feel safe' because of the police presence. The barista asked the officers to move out of the customer’s line of sight or to leave. Disappointed, the officers did in fact leave."

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the customer and all of the officers involved were white.

“The barista said, ‘These guys come here all the time,’” a Starbucks spokesperson told the Times. “The barista repeatedly said, ‘They come here all the time. There is nothing wrong.’”

The barista then "asked the officers to move away from the area where customers pick up their orders, which was near the entrance, to relieve the customer’s anxiety."

The customer, barista, and officers remain unidentified in the incident.

Starbucks didn't immediately respond to a message on Monday from Phoenix New Times. (Update: A spokesperson for the company later responded, saying he had no details to add to the story at this point.)

Starbucks later apologized for the incident.

"Dear Chief Moir and the entire Tempe Police Department ... I want to sincerely apologize to you all for the experience that six of your officers had in our store on July 4," said executive vice president Rossann Williams in a press release posted on the company's website. "When those officers entered the store and a customer raised a concern over their presence, they should have been welcomed and treated with dignity and the utmost respect by our partners (employees). Instead, they were made to feel unwelcome and disrespected, which is completely unacceptable."

Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir also chimed in on Twitter. "Twitter world- we are using this incident to show how to thoughtfully engage in dialogue - it is NOT ok to blame, rage, or call for anything other than positive change," Moir wrote.

The Tempe Police Department issued a statement on Twitter stating that Moir is speaking with Starbucks executives, calling the incident "an opportunity to work together to strengthen our communal relationship."

Williams said she would be in Tempe on Sunday evening to address concerns and meet with community members in person. New reports indicated the meetings would continue today.

Relations between police and the community in Arizona have made national news in recent months for a very different reason. In June, video of a Phoenix police officer telling an unarmed black man, "I'm going to put a fucking cap in your fucking head" went viral. Phoenix police officers pulled a gun on the man, his pregnant fiancée, and their two young children because they allegedly stole a doll and underwear from a dollar store.

Earlier this year, in January, Tempe police shot and killed a 14-year-old accused of burglary who was holding an airsoft gun.

Online, some criticized the backlash, recalling how last year, a Starbucks employee called police on two black men who were waiting to meet someone at a store in Philadelphia. Police arrested the men. The men later settled a lawsuit against the city for a symbolic $1 each and a commitment from the mayor to contribute $200,000 to a program for public high school students.

Others made light of the situation, sharing memes and pointing out the similarities to the backlash Nike received just days earlier for pulling a sneaker featuring the Betsy Ross 13-star flag.

Nike decided to discontinue the sneaker following criticism from former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In response, Governor Doug Ducey issued a lengthy Twitter rant and said he would pull $1 million in state incentives offered to the company. Two days later, Ducey was seen wearing Nikes at a Fourth of July barbecue in Flagstaff.

UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, Tempe police released the following statement about the department's meetings with Starbucks representatives:

"Over the past few days, Executives of Starbucks, Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir, the Tempe Officers Association and members of the Tempe Police Department have engaged in meaningful and positive dialogue related to the incident that occurred on July 4, 2019. Both organizations and the individuals involved in the meetings remain committed to serving and safeguarding communities while fostering inclusiveness, dignity and respect. This will be the final statement regarding this incident as we are working to move forward."
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Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.