Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has vowed to ensure that incidents like the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia restaurant never happen again. Calling the solution a “journey,” Johnson told CNN’s Don Lemon that the first step is to train all of the U.S. staff on how to handle company policy enforcement while focusing on the role that racial bias plays in decision-making.
The company is closing its doors on the afternoon of May 29 to send all employees to a racial bias education training session. Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti Defamation League (ADL), former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Heather McGee, who is the president of Demos, will lead the training. But Twitter has since erupted with criticism of the coffeehouse giant’s choice of inviting the ADL.
Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory posted that the ADL has a history of constantly attacking “black and brown people” and called Starbucks “tone deaf.” Mallory said that Starbucks’ inclusion of the ADL fails to address the concerns of black people and she stands beside her call to boycott the company.
Freelance journalist Deanna Othman, who identifies as a Muslim, a Palestinian, and an American, tweeted that the ADL is a poor choice to teach racial sensitivity. Othman asserts that the organization “promotes racism against Palestinians.”
Many in the Twittersphere point to the ADL’s ongoing relationship with police here in the states and abroad. One post highlighted an article on Electronic Intifada by Rania Khalek where she reported on the ADL’s decision to honor the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) back on July 31, 2015.
The league was to commemorate the 10-year celebration of its Holocaust education program called “Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust” or LEAS. The honor was bestowed on the SLMPD just days before the one-year anniversary of the officer-involved murder of unarmed teen Mike Brown.
Also noted by detractors of Starbucks’ plan to train its employees has been the ADL’s long-standing practice of sponsoring United States/Israel law enforcement training partnerships. Mondoweiss posted an eight-part thread highlighting the group’s anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim activities and their connection to “police violence against communities of color.”
Muslims are weighing in on the debate as well. Florida ACLU board member Ahmed Bedier, who is also the founder of United Voices of America and serves as president of the Human Rights Council of Tampa Bay, tweeted that Starbucks was doing “good damage control.” But Bedier also called the ADL Islamophobic and said that its inclusion in the employee training is therefore problematic.
In spite of the social media backlash, Johnson’s response to the apparently racially-motivated arrests has been hailed as trailblazing. For possibly the first time in history, a CEO got on a plane and flew to the city where an incident involving racial bias occurred and met with the victims. Johnson publicly condemned the Starbucks manager’s decision to call the police and she has been since removed from that store.
Johnson has also met with restaurant management, Philadelphia law enforcement, and the city’s leadership in an effort to understand what happened and the impact the incident has had on the community.
Reputation Management chairman Eric Schiffer told CNBC that Johnson took too long to address the issue of race. However, Schiffer commended the CEO for closing the stores to conduct the training. He believes that Starbucks is sending a strong message to consumers and the greater business community that they “value doing the right thing over earnings and customer cash.”