By Dan Calabrese
My leading theory is that no one here was being racist at all. Someone was just being very inflexible about a customers-only policy and the people on the other end of the obsessive enforcement happened to be black.
We’ve reached a point in society where if any black person has to endure an indignity of any kind, it’s presumed racist unless proven otherwise, which is impossible. Let’s take a look at the video, with a little setup if you haven’t been following this the past couple of days: Two men walk into a Starbucks, use the bathroom and then sit down at a table. They haven’t ordered anything yet, and they’re told by an employee they have to order something or leave – as the bathrooms are for customers only. They say they’re waiting to order until a third man who’s meeting them there shows up. The employee isn’t satisfied with this, and when they refuse to leave, he calls the cops.
Here’s how we got from that to handcuffs:
First let’s eliminate any notion that the cops acted in a racist or otherwise inappropriate fashion here. They didn’t. When a private business calls the police and says someone is trespassing, the cops have to respond to that call. If the alleged trespassers are in violation of the business’s policies – even if only in a technical sense – and the business insists they leave, then they are in a legal sense trespassing and the cops have to remove them.
The men would not have been put in handcuffs if not for the fact that they refused to a) order something in advance of their friend’s arrival or b) get up and leave when the police told them to. Given their refusal to do either, the police had no choice but to handcuff them and remove them. Once they were off the premises, the police released the men.
So as badly as some of you want to make this a “racist police” story, it simply isn’t. Sorry.
But what about the actions of the other people involved? First let’s deal with the Starbucks employee. Was it reasonable to tell the men they had to order rather than waiting for their friend? It might have been. If you go into any Starbucks, especially at certain times of the day, you know that places to sit are at a premium – particularly tables. It’s generally considered bad form to take up a table if you haven’t bought anything, while others get relegated to one of the window seats or one of the bigger conference-table type seats that put you alongside random strangers.
(Yeah, I work in coffee shops a lot so I’m pretty familiar with the etiquette.)
If an employee told them they had to at least order drinks if they were going to take up a table, that is a very reasonable request, and there is no serious justification for their refusal to do so. Now having said that, was it necessary to escalate it to the point where the police were called? You want to say no – and eyewitnesses said the men were doing nothing “wrong” in terms of causing a scene or anything – but you also have to recognize that as customers, they should have been willing to respect the Starbucks policy when it comes to ordering before taking a seat.
A lot of people are coming forward and saying, hey, I’m white and I’ve done that at Starbucks, and no one called the cops. True? It could be. I have no idea. Every Starbucks is different and every Starbucks manager is going to make his or her own decisions about how far to go in trying to enforce a policy. There’s no way to prove the manager was motivated by race in deciding to call the cops, and for those predisposed to think every indignity suffered by a black person is racist, there’s no need to prove it. It’s just true and that’s all there is to it.
Here’s the problem I think we’re getting to as a society, though, and I’d like to demonstrate it with a story from my own personal experience. You already know about my encounter with the police two summers ago, but several years before that, I had another one that was kind of unusual.
During the summer I like to enjoy the outdoors while I do my work, so it’s normal for me to find a spot in a park somewhere, and sit there pounding away at my laptop while the rest of you are stuck in your offices and cubicles. Hey. I can so I do. But there are moments when you need to plug in to recharge your laptop battery, and at those moments, where you can sit depends in large part on where you can find an available electrical outlet.
One day I was working in a park in Grandville, Michigan, and I needed to plug in. I looked around and the only outlet I could find was outside the public restrooms. That’s hardly a choice location, but if you don’t recharge, you’re not going to get any work done. So I plugged in and sat on the ground outside the restroom, doing my work.
Until the Grandville police showed up.
Someone else in the park had seen me sitting outside the restroom, thought it was weird and called the cops. They approached me and explained the nature of the call they’d received. I told them the real reason I was sitting there, and they said they completely understood, but they wondered if I could clear out anyway because my being there had made at least this one person nervous. I said I completely understood that, and I headed over to the library where I knew I could plug in and not wig anyone out.
So what’s the relevance of the story? Simply this: I could have sat there and demanded to know: “What law am I breaking?” I could have insisted: “I’m not doing anything wrong!” And I would have been right. I wasn’t breaking any laws and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was a bit of an indignity to be confronted by the police, even if I did make the choice to sit outside the bathroom. But the police were just doing their jobs, the woman who complained didn’t know the whole story, and it was easy to make an accommodation so that everyone could be comfortable.
So why not do it? I could have stood there and argued with them, but that would have been stupid and counterproductive when the course that solved the problem was no big deal to take.
Every person who ever lives – black, white, yellow, red, whatever – will deal with an indignity at some point, not because of their color but just by virtue of being alive and being engaged with the human race. But we’ve now decided that whenever a black person deals with an indignity, it is inherently racism and someone has to pay. Either the police have to be attacked or a corporation has to apologize. You don’t even have to show that racism was really at work. You only need a scenario in which it can be plausibly presented that way, and it’s as good as done.
This is not a healthy situation. We’ve decided that certain people, by virtue of their race, have the right to lash out at others and insist on victimhood at every indignity, even if the more prudent course of action would be to just make a reasonable accommodation or let the matter go. If a non-minority was asked to order something or not take up a table, and refused, most people would think that person was unreasonable and rude. But when a minority does it, it’s beyond criticism.
We cannot achieve racial harmony if we have different rules for different people, and if we convict people of racism based on mere circumstances without really knowing if racism was at work. Yet that’s exactly what we’re doing now, culturally and politically.
This is not necessary as a way of battling real racism. In fact, it’s counterproductive, because you’re tossing around the charge of racism so casually that it means nothing, and most people recognize that and have stopped taking it seriously.
If racial healing is the goal, that approach is a guaranteed failure. If the goal, however, is to bludgeon people with the charge of racism while keeping minorities perpetually angry and paranoid, congratulations, I guess.
Dan writes Christian spiritual warfare novels and does all kinds of other weird things too. Follow all his activity by liking him on Facebook!