by Dr. Ed DeVries
On Sunday, July 7, 2019, Starbucks issued an official apology because three days earlier, six Tempe, Arizona police officers were asked by a concerned barista to leave the store because their “presence” was making the store’s patrons feel “unsafe.”
As the news of this incident made its way around the country both social media and mainstream media came down hard on both the Starbuck’s employee and also on the store’s patrons.
Hundreds of thousands of self-proclaimed “patriots” took to Twitter supporting the police and an organized boycott of Starbucks was launched.
The Tempe Officers Association said on Twitter:
“This treatment of public safety workers could not be more disheartening. While the barista was polite, making such a request at all was offensive.”
In response, Rossann Williams, executive VP of Starbucks wrote:
“On behalf of Starbucks, I want to sincerely apologize to you all for the experience that six of your officers had in our store on July 4.”
“What occurred in our store on July 4 is never the experience your officers or any customer should have, and at Starbucks, we are already taking the necessary steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future.”
Since then, the Tempe Police have released a statement saying they’ve had “ongoing meetings with Starbucks in an effort to turn this story into something positive.” What was so negative that they have needed multiple meetings to spin it?
I’m not defending the Barista. Nor am I saying that what she did was wrong. In an ideal world, everyone should be able to go to Starbucks, or wherever, and enjoy their food without feeling “unsafe” while doing so. In a common sense world, you simply do not patronize establishments that are frequented by others who would make you feel uncomfortable. Which is why, for example, you may choose to go out to eat in the “suburbs” rather than in the “ghetto.”
But the incident at Starbucks is not so clear cut.
For example, I live in a city with an approximate population of 53,000. It consists of approximately 45.85 square miles. In an experiment conducted for this editorial I drove the perimeter, length, and width of the city. I encountered a police vehicle, on average, every 6/10 of a mile. The longest I drove without encountering a cop was 1.2 miles. That’s a LOT of cops in a very small area. My point is, they are everywhere! Avoiding them is likely impossible.
Now without experiment, and I admit that this may be a bit stereotypical, it only makes sense that you are more likely to encounter a cop at say a donut shop or a coffee shop than at say a drive-by shooting. Granted, the cops will eventually show up to the scene of the drive-by after the shooters have long left but you get the point.
Maybe, someone who does not feel safe with the police around should choose to hang out at somewhere other than a coffee shop?
And, might I add, if someone truly feels unsafe around police, maybe the solution, rather than going to a Barista and asking them to ask other paying customers to leave, maybe, just maybe, the uncomfortable customer should have just picked up her coffee, got in her car, and driven to a different location where she would have felt safe?
The six cops, while in uniform, were off duty. And they paid for their beverages. They had just as much right to be there and patronize the store as any of the other customers.
And let me say that the six cops were, it would appear, decent people. The kind of decent people we would hope to have working in our local police agency. If any of these six cops were not good men they might have done what the police recently did to the patrons of an Indiana bar and grille. Imagine if upon hearing that their presence made a patron feel unsafe the officers ordered everyone to line up against a wall and one by one take their “identification” and run them through a series of databases. They would of course be doing this without a warrant, without probable cause, etc. They would be doing it, as one of the Indiana cops told the bar’s manager “because we can.”
So the fact that the six cops, rightfully offended, simply walked away allowing the patrons that preceded them to enjoy the rest of their coffees in peace speaks volumes to their integrity.
Integrity, a character trait that many believe to be lacking in modern day “law enforcement” officers. And maybe that is why the other patrons at the Starbucks felt uncomfortable.
While everyone in the media, both “social” and mainstream are chastising the patrons and the Barista, maybe someone should ask why the mere presence of cops makes “civilians” feel UNSAFE? Maybe that is a bigger problem than Starbucks asking them to leave because of it. After all, I thought that the whole point of police is supposed to be to keep people SAFE. At least that’s what “Officer Friendly” and McGruff the Police Dog told us when we were in elementary school.
But the reality is that as police (i.e. “protect and serve”) have evolved from public servants into “law enforcement,” fewer and fewer people have confidence in them – and the incident at Starbucks simply points our attention to it.
Maybe the question we should be asking is not whether or not it was appropriate to ask the six cops to leave and instead ask why is it that American citizens are increasingly feeling uncomfortable with police presence? I’ve never heard of firefighters or EMTs being denied service. Or of people complaining that they feel unsafe when they see a large contingent of firefighters. So what are they, the “police” doing?
Maybe, the same people who are mad about Starbucks kicking cops out of their shop should consider advocating for better police-community relations?
Or maybe police officers should simply stop driving around in second-hand tanks while wearing black, ninja-commando, paramilitary suits and simply go back to dressing like normal uniformed civil servants? I don’t recall anyone in Mayberry ever asking Sheriff Andy to leave the coffee shop. But then again Sheriff Andy wasn’t dressed like a combat soldier and armed to the teeth either.
Maybe if we thought that the policeman was there to “protect and serve” we wouldn’t be afraid to see him walk into the coffee shop? One of us might even offer to buy his latte?