Recently, two black men who were not patronizing a Starbucks - but waiting inside for a friend - were arrested for trespassing. Starbucks Philadelphia arrest: CEO apologizes to two black men arrested in a store after an employee call to police - The Washington Post

I recognize that a business owner has the right to remove a person from their property who is trespassing and that a business does not have the right to refuse service to someone based on their race. However, if you are a business like Starbucks that goes out of its way to make its environment welcoming and inviting for customers to stay, do you have the right to kick people out because of their race after you serve them?

Is the ability to stay in the store considered part of the purchase; or did the manager who called the cops to remove the two black men still had that right if they had purchased something from the store?

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    "...do you have the right to kick people out because of their race after you serve them?" Of course not. Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 22:34
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    What reason do you have to think that the request to police was based on race? I haven't seen any facts that suggest that.
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 22:49
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    The men appear to have been in the technical wrong, but if they had been white, do you really think they'd have been asked to leave, let alone trespassed and arrested? @user6726
    – user4657
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 23:18
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    I'm asking whether there is any actual evidence, I'm not looking for an emotional reaction. Not asking for "beyond a reasonable doubt", just something that would pass the "reasonable suspicion" test.
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 23:30
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    As I understand it, the men were told to order something or leave, and they declined to order anything and refused to leave. At that point, they're trespassing, and the police can enforce their removal from the premises. So your question's assumption that they made a purchase appears to be incorrect.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 1:21

1 Answer 1


Were two black men legally removed from a Philadelphia Starbucks?

Maybe - its complicated.

The crime of trespass in Pennsylvania relevantly involves:

3503 (b) Defiant trespasser.--

(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by:

(i) actual communication to the actor;

At face value, the store manager asked them to leave and by refusing to do so they committed the crime. However:

(c) Defenses.--It is a defense to prosecution under this section that:

(2) the premises were at the time open to members of the public and the actor complied with all lawful conditions imposed on access to or remaining in the premises; or

If the condition imposed was "buy something or get out" then that would be a lawful condition and trespass would have been committed. If the condition was "because you're black" then that would be an unlawful condition and trespass would not have been committed.

Now, the evil and insidious thing about unlawful discrimination is that there are lots of perfectly lawful masquerades that it can wear. Indeed, except in egregious cases, the unlawful discrimination can only be inferred by a holistic look at a large number of interactions to see where any particular one falls on the scale.

That said, this particular case feels like racial discrimination.

With respect to Starbucks, if they could show evidence that it routinely asks people of all ethnicities who did not make a purchase to leave then this would not be racial discrimination - just bad business practice. However, given the particular business model of providing a place to rest along with an opportunity to buy sub-standard coffee it seems unlikely that this was the case (I'm Australian so I completely fail to understand why Americans insist on drinking bad coffee).

With respect to the police, this is a little less clear. It is not their job to determine how a court (or DA) might decide a case: its their job to determine if they have probable cause to believe a crime is or has been committed. They have a store manager who has asked people to leave and people who are refusing to do so - probable cause for trespass. That said, police have discretion as to how to handle the situation: they could talk to the manager, they could ask the patrons to leave or they could arrest them. They can use their discretion however they like: unless it is based on unlawful discrimination. Which brings us back to the beginning.

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    Whether asking people who are sitting at your tables without purchasing anything to leave is "bad business practice" is certainly debatable.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 1:26
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    I think with the current social climate you can't kick people out your business unless they are white or stealing. Even then I'm sure someone could find a way to make you look racist...
    – Anon
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 5:30
  • @phoog given Starbucks business model it is certainly incongruous
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 6:13
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    @DaleM maybe. I patronize Starbucks only as a last resort, so maybe once a year, and I am therefore blissfully unfamiliar with their business model, but I imagine that if it were to get out that they had a policy of letting anyone occupy their seating without purchasing anything that they would eventually lose customers on account of the lack of available seats.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 12:35
  • FWIW, it is being reported that the men arrived at the Starbucks at 4:35 and the call to the police happened 4:37, which sounds like a very sudden escalation and gives support to the claim of racism from Starbucks. OTOH, police officers reportedly asked several times the men to leave before arresting them. usatoday.com/story/money/2018/04/18/…
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 10:18

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