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One year later: A timeline of controversy and progress since the Starbucks arrests seen ’round the world

It was a year of bad headlines about — and promises from — the Seattle-based coffee chain.

Protestor Aurica Hurst pours out coffee in front of Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets on April 16, 2018, as protests continue outside the store where two black men were arrested.
Protestor Aurica Hurst pours out coffee in front of Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets on April 16, 2018, as protests continue outside the store where two black men were arrested.Read more / File Photograph

It’s been a year since two black men were handcuffed and arrested by Philadelphia Police for sitting in a Rittenhouse Square Starbucks without purchasing something, sparking international outrage and a reckoning for one of the country’s most visible brands.

It was a moment seen ’round the world. After a video of the arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson went viral on Twitter, weeks of protests at the Starbucks location at 18th and Spruce Streets followed, as did an apology tour by Starbucks leadership and nationwide racial-bias training for the company’s 175,000 employees.

Since then, a lot has happened in Philadelphia for the Seattle-based coffee giant.

Here’s a look back at a year of problems, promises, and even some progress.

April 12, 2018

Melissa DePino posts a video of the arrest on Twitter, showing police arresting Nelson and Robinson. The video quickly gains traction on Twitter. (A year later, it has more than 11 million views.) The men are not charged with a crime.

April 14, 2018

International furor mounts. Mayor Jim Kenney releases a statement saying the incident "appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross says on Facebook “officers did not do anything wrong.”

April 15, 2018

Prominent Philadelphia activist Asa Khalif leads a protest at the Starbucks location, demanding the person who called police be fired. The public later learns the manager who called police and the company parted ways.

April 17, 2018

While protests continue, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson comes to Philadelphia to meet with Nelson and Robinson. He tells The Inquirer that he also has spoken with Kenney and Ross, calling the incident that took place in the store “reprehensible.” Starbucks announces it will shut down its 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 to conduct racial-bias education for 175,000 employees. Experts call the move unprecedented.

The same day, Philadelphia Police release the 911 call and police radio chatter that preceded the arrest.

April 19, 2018

Nelson and Robinson speak publicly, sitting for an interview with Good Morning America and calling for change.

Hours later, Ross apologizes to the men, saying he “played a significant role in making it worse.”

May 2, 2018

The City of Philadelphia announces it settled with Nelson and Robinson, saying it would pay each $1 and agreed to set aside $200,000 to fund a program for young entrepreneurs. Starbucks reaches an agreement with the men that includes a confidential financial settlement “that will allow both sides to move forward and continue to talk and explore means of preventing similar occurrences at any Starbucks location.”

May 20, 2018

Starbucks announces it has changed its policy to welcome everyone, including nonpaying guests, to sit in its stores and use its restrooms.

May 21, 2018

DePino and Michelle Saahene, who were both in the Starbucks when the arrest occurred, announce they’ve created From Privilege to Progress, a project aimed at getting white people to share the experiences of people of color.

May 29, 2018

Starbucks closes all its stores for an afternoon so employees can undergo racial-bias training.

June 4, 2018

Amid rumors he may launch a bid for president, ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz steps down from his position as executive chairman at Starbucks and tells the New York Times: “I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service.”

June 8, 2018

Philadelphia Police announce a new policy laying out procedures for when officers should arrest a person accused of trespassing on private property. It stipulates the officer must witness the person refusing to leave and indicates an arrest cannot be made if the owner refuses to file a trespassing complaint.

July 2, 2018

The negative news for Starbucks in Philly continues. A man said a barista in West Philadelphia mocked him for his stuttering disorder, saying the employee mimicked him by saying “OK, S-S-Sam” and writing on his cup “SSSam.” The barista is later fired.

The same day, two experts who agreed to help Starbucks navigate the racial-bias controversy release a report outlining recommendations, including that the company conduct in-store tests and identify unequal hiring and payment practices. Starbucks agrees to the recommendations and promises to conduct further anti-bias training.

Oct. 4, 2018

Starbucks hosts a job fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. The company wouldn’t call it a consequence of the arrests, but said the “unfortunate event" led the company to host in Philly a bit more quickly than it had planned.

Oct. 15, 2018

The Police Advisory Commission, a citizen oversight board, releases a report that recommends police undergo anti-racist training that emphasizes not only unconscious bias, but also the role systemic racism plays in perpetuating those biases. In a response to the report, Ross rejected the idea racism impacts police-citizen interactions. However, he wrote, “we can agree that biases, whether implicit or explicit, may distort the fears and perception of some citizens who call the police to report crimes.”

Nov. 8, 2018

News trickles out that a Starbucks location at Fourth and South Streets, one of the oldest in the area, will close. The Inquirer reported a rent increase was likely to blame.

Feb. 12, 2019

Schultz, acknowledging that he’s considering a run for president as an independent, sparks outrage at a CNN Town Hall event: “As somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see color as a young boy, and I honestly don’t see color now.” The color-blindness defense has been widely panned as denying the experiences of people of color.

Feb. 14, 2019

Schultz makes news again, this time during a book tour stop at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia. In discussing the incident in Philadelphia, he said the store manager acknowledged to him that she “probably” would not have called police if the two men had been white. Schultz said she called 911 after she “felt a threat."

DePino, who attended the talk, interjected during a question-and-answer session, identifying herself and saying “you are not describing the incident accurately, and the way you are describing it is perpetuating the problem."

Feb. 23, 2019

A new controversy begins when artist and Streets Dept. blogger Conrad Benner writes about plans to build a Starbucks kiosk in Dilworth Park. A petition he started gets thousands of signatures to protest the corporatization of the public park, which is run by the private Center City District. CCD President Paul Levy defends the kiosk as “part of a larger strategy to create a quality public space without stressing the city budget.”

March 5, 2019

The Inquirer publishes a story about a Starbucks location at Broad and Pine Streets that implemented a redesign, removing tables and chairs in favor of two high-top tables in a corner. Some saw the move as “defensive design,” or a way to deter people experiencing homelessness. The company said the store had been feeling crowded.

April 9, 2019

Benner and Levy pen a joint post on Streets Dept. indicating CCD is moving forward with the kiosk but that both parties agree “excessive corporate branding in public spaces should be avoided.”

“With the Starbucks lease, CCD followed its standard public outreach and the formal public approval process,” they wrote. “However, it is clear in the wake of this controversy that we can do better, and moving forward, CCD plans to work at communicating in ways that increase transparency and inclusiveness about contemplated major, physical changes at Dilworth Park.”