US: Protests over arrest of two African-American men at Starbucks heightens, shop closes briefly

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Apr 17, 2018, 12.17 PM (IST)

Protests over the arrest of two afro men after being told to walk out of Starbucks in Philadelphia has led to a brief shutdown of the coffee shop. 

During the early demonstration that forced the store to close, protesters called the mammoth coffee chain "anti-black." The store reopened hours later.

Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Kevin Johnson hopes to meet with the two afro men arrested at one of its Philadelphia cafes last week to apologise for the incident, which has sparked accusations of racial profiling at the coffee chain.

The men, who had not made a purchase, were handcuffed and arrested for trespassing on Thursday after a store manager called 911 and reported them for refusing to leave. Witnesses said the men were calmly sitting in the cafe and in a widely viewed video, some patrons asked police whether they were targeted because they are black.

Police released the men, who were not charged.

"The circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome in our store on Thursday were reprehensible ... they were wrong," Johnson told ABC's Good Morning America on Monday, amid protests and calls for a boycott on social media.

The men, who have not been identified, initially asked to use the restroom inside the Starbucks on Thursday but were told the cafe's bathrooms were for customers only. They then occupied a table without making a purchase, which many observers have noted is a common occurrence at the franchise's locations.

The female manager who reported the men to police has left the company, a Starbucks representative said.

The incident came at a time when the company is grappling with flat traffic and lacklustre sales growth at its more than 14,000 U.S. cafes. It is a high-profile public relations test for Johnson, a former technology executive who took the helm at Starbucks roughly a year ago.

Johnson, who was interviewed from Philadelphia, said it was "completely inappropriate to engage the police." He added that Starbucks would conduct training to prevent unconscious bias.

Representatives for the two men could not immediately be reached.

(With inputs from Reuters)