News, Culture & Society

Black man arrested in Starbucks was a repeat victim of ‘racial profiling’

The black college graduate whose arrest at Starbucks has caused nationwide uproar appears to be a long-time victim of racial profiling by police, DailyMail.com can reveal.

Rashon Nelson, 23, who with his business partner Donte Robinson was led from the store in handcuffs in an encounter with police which prompted national outrage, has been stopped at least a dozen times in three years by police, almost always for minor traffic offenses. He has never been arrested.

African-American community leaders told DailyMail.com his experience ‘happens all the time’ and is evidence of how young black men are treated by police.

Nelson and Robinson told ABC’s Good Morning America Thursday that they had been in the store just minutes when cops – who did not read them their Miranda rights – escorted them in handcuffs to a police station, where they were held in custody for eight hours. Nelson told the Associated Press he feared for his life. 

 

Center of storm: Rashon Nelson (left) was meeting his friend Donte Robinson (right) in Starbucks in Philadelphia Center City when their arrest sparked national outrage. Now DailyMailcom reveals how Nelson has a history which campaigners say is evidence of racial profiling 

Notorious: The viral video that prompted the scandal showed police handcuffing first Rashon Nelson (pictured) then Donte Robinson. They have told how they were not freed until midnight

Notorious: The viral video that prompted the scandal showed police handcuffing first Rashon Nelson then Donte Robinson (pictured). They have told how they were not freed until midnight

Notorious: The viral video that prompted the scandal showed police handcuffing first Rashon Nelson then Donte Robinson (right). They have told how they were not freed until midnight

DailyMail.com can disclose how public records reveal that the Starbucks incident is not the first time that Nelson, a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity’s Alpha Eta chapter who graduated from Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania in 2017, has been arrested – and subsequently had charges withdrawn or dismissed.

According to public records, he has been subject to 13 traffic violations or misdemeanors in the past three years – which African-American community leaders say points to racial-profiling.

‘DRIVING WHILE BLACK’: HOW COPS KEPT STOPPING RASHON NELSON 

February 22, 2014

Offense: Retail theft

Outcome: Case dismissed

April 23, 2015

Offense: Illegally parked where official sign prohibits

Outcome: Withdrawn

April 27, 2015

Offense: Parking violation -meter

Outcome: Withdrawn

April 28, 2015

Offense: Parking violation – meter

Outcome: Withdrawn

August 23, 2015

Offense: Violating rules of PA Turnpike

Outcome: Guilty plea

October 15, 2015

Offense: Obedience to traffic-control device

Outcome: Guilty plea 

November 29, 2015

Offense: Exceeding 35mph in urban district by 5mph

Outcome: Guilty plea

June 30, 2016

Offense: Speeding by 10mph

Outcome: Guilty plea

August 26, 2016

Offense: Exceed max speed limit by 5mph

Outcome: Guilty plea

September 4, 2016

Offense: Speeding by 15mph

Outcome: Guilty plea

September 10, 2016

Offense: Turning movements and required signals

Outcome: Guilty plea

November 23, 2016

Offense: Speeding by 15mph

Outcome: Guilty plea

April 21, 2017

Offense: Careless driving, driving in right lane, first offense – controlled substance – impaired ability

Outcome: Record wiped clean after community service and fine            

Philadelphia councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the district where the Starbucks is located, said he was ‘not surprised’.

Johnson told DailyMail.com: ‘I know for a fact that racial profiling exists. The city of Philadelphia is under a consent decree because the ACLU sued the city for racial profiling.’

In 2010, the ACLU sued Philadelphia over the police’s stop-and-frisk policy. African-Americans were far more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts, according to statistics – and often without justifiable cause. 

Philadelphia settled the case in 2011 with a consent decree, which requires them to collect data on the policy and train officers to eliminate bias-based policing.

Nelson has been stopped by police in other parts of Pennsylvania for offenses such as ‘exceeding 35mph in urban district by 5mph’, along with driving in the wrong lane, parking violations and meter violations.

Democratic candidate for lieutenant-governor of Alabama, Dr Will Boyd, who belongs to the same fraternity as Nelson, told DailyMail.com that African-Americans are subject to profiling ‘all the time’.

He said he too is routinely pulled over by police in a certain area of his home state because ‘I drive a vehicle that may look somewhat attractive to people’.

Dr Boyd said: ‘Profiling is still taking place and leads to a disproportionate number of African-Americans being incarcerated, when we know that crimes are being committed on the same levels across races.

‘[Rashon Nelson] is a well-educated man, as am I, who is experiencing, not only profiling, but being unfairly apprehended and detained for eight hours.

‘He demonstrated respect – no matter how many traffic tickets he had, that’s irrelevant. He responded with respect and was still treated unfairly.’

Nelson and Robinson were supposed to meet Andrew Yaffe, a white local businessman, at a Starbucks across town. But the plan changed, and they agreed to meet at the Rittenhouse Square location, where they’d met several times before, to discuss a potential real estate opportunity.

The black men arrived a few minutes early.  

He thought nothing of it when he and his business partner, Donte Robinson, were approached at their table and were asked if they needed help. The 23-year-old entrepreneurs declined, explaining they were just waiting for a business meeting.

And he also thought nothing of it when she told them the restrooms were for paying customers only. 

A few minutes later, they hardly noticed when the police walked into the coffee shop – until officers started walking in their direction. 

Video of the men, filmed on cell phones by members of the public, being arrested prompted protests at the Starbucks store and soul-searching one of the U.S.’s largest chains.

Store manager Holly Hylton, 31, made the 911 call last Thursday at 4.37pm, and told a dispatcher: ‘Hi, I have two gentlemen at my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave. I’m at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce.’

The encounter, videoed by a white customer as other people in the store asked police what they were doing, showed both men being handcuffed. 

‘As soon as they approached us they just said we have to leave. There was no question of “was there a problem here between you and the manager?”‘ Nelson told GMA. 

Manager Holly Hylton (pictured) is no longer employed by Starbucks after the incident

Robinson said the officers didn’t even explain what charges they were being arrested on. 

‘I was just trying to process the situation to myself at the time because I’m thinking about my family, that I have my community, so in that moment I’m trying to process what’s going on because it didn’t really hit me what was going on – that it was real – until I’m being double locked and my hands are behind my back,’ he said. 

Nelson told the Asscoiated Press that he was worried he would not make it home alive. ‘Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind. You never know what’s going to happen,’ he said.

Yaffe showed up as the men were being handcuffed. He can be seen in the video demanding an explanation for the officers’ actions. Nelson and Robinson did not resist arrest.

‘When you know that you did nothing wrong, how do you really react to it?’ Nelson said. ‘You can either be ignorant or you can show some type of sophistication and act like you have class. That was the choice we had.’

Robinson briefly wondered what he might’ve done to bring the moment on himself, he told GMA.

‘I feel like I fell short,’ he explained. ‘I’m trying to think of something I did wrong, to put not just me but my brother, my lifelong friend … in this situation.’

Hylton no longer works at Starbucks in what has been called a ‘mutual decision’ for her to part ways with the company. DailyMail.com’s repeated attempts to contact Hylton were unsuccessful. 

At the weekend she blamed the incident on what she claimed was a corporate policy at Center City Philadelphia locations which prohibits excessive loitering in stores.

She told TechBook on Saturday that one person had even chased her around the shop after she asked them to leave. She told the news outlet management has the discretion to ensure the policy is enforced.

She also revealed that she doesn’t even tell the customers when she’s calling the police. 

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson flew to Philadelphia to apologize to Nelson and Robinson in person after their arrest. The coffee chain has also decided to shut stores for one day next month so staff can undergo ‘implicit bias training’.

Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz told CBS that he was ‘ashamed’ at what had happened, adding: ‘I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level.’

And on Thursday Philadelphia Commissioner Richard Ross, who is black, apologized to the two men, walking back entirely his previous staunch defense of his officers.

Ross says that he “failed miserably” in the messaging around the arrests. He says that the issue of race is not lost on him and he shouldn’t be the person making things worse.

He says the police department did not have a policy for dealing for similar situations, but does now. He says it will be released soon.

 Dr Boyd, a professor at Dayspring Christian University and Basileus of a chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity in Florence, Alabama, applauded the CEO’s apology but said Starbucks had a long way to go.

On Thursday, Nelson, left, and Robinson, right, spoke out about the incident for the first time as they told how they had no idea what had happened to them and were unaware of the viral video while they spent hours in police cells

On Thursday, Nelson, left, and Robinson, right, spoke out about the incident for the first time as they told how they had no idea what had happened to them and were unaware of the viral video while they spent hours in police cells

Howard Schultz, the Starbucks executive chairman, who turned the coffee shop into a worldwide brand, told CBS This Morning on Wednesday: 'I'm embarrassed, ashamed. I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level'

Howard Schultz, the Starbucks executive chairman, who turned the coffee shop into a worldwide brand, told CBS This Morning on Wednesday: ‘I’m embarrassed, ashamed. I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level’

The incident sparked accusations of racial profiling at the coffee chain and prompted activists to start protesting at the Philadelphia store on April 16

The incident sparked accusations of racial profiling at the coffee chain and prompted activists to start protesting at the Philadelphia store on April 16

‘Starbucks want to be ‘The Third Place’ between work and home – but then why can’t you use a bathroom?’ he said.

‘Their mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time, so I believe shutting down for one day is not going to be enough time to explain to every employee how to do that.

‘It’s a noble effort and I know profits will obviously be lost but creating such a culture – coming from a manager, a leader, who has worked in Fortune 500 companies and is pastor of a 158-year-old church – this is not an easy task.’

Dr Boyd said fraternity brothers all over the world had been reaching out to Nelson, to applaud him on how he handled himself with great dignity.

The pastor said the Starbucks incident shows that although ‘our nation has made great strides in race relations and diversity, we still have a long way to go’.

‘What happens to the uneducated man who doesn’t have the ability to articulate what he’s doing?

‘Or who doesn’t have the attorney, even though he may be granted rights to one but doesn’t have the dollars to afford one?’ 

Councilman Johnson also told DailyMail.com that they would be holding Starbucks accountable but this was part of a greater issue.

He said: ‘We expect to hold Starbucks accountable but we want all African-American young men, and people in general as human beings, to feel welcome in any public or private establishment.

‘We are seeing some very divisive times now in America and so instances like this escalate those types of other negative instances that we have been seeing throughout the country.’

Rashon Nelson did not respond to a request for comment.

The area of Philadelphia where Nelson and Robinson were arrested has ‘the highest racial disparities in pedestrian stops in the entire city’, according to the ACLU.

Research shows African-Americans made up 67 per cent of pedestrian stops in Philadelphia’s Ninth District in 2017 – even though the area’s population is only 3 per cent black.

A March 2018 poll on civil rights, by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, revealed that seven out of 10 African-Americans believe there has been little or no progress made in treatment by police over the last 50 years.

Although comprehensive data on race and police interactions is not available, several studies, using state and federal data, give a sense of the disparities.

A 2017 study by Stanford University looked at data from 16 states which revealed black drivers are more likely to be stopped, ticketed and arrested than white drivers.

A Harvard study in 2016, based on federal data, revealed that black drivers were more likely to be grabbed, handcuffed and have a gun pointed at them than white drivers during traffic stops.

Councilman Johnson noted that the Starbucks incident was far from isolated.

‘This happens in neighborhoods and cities throughout America. Hopefully this will open a dialogue and a major conversation on the issue of race relations in America so we can all come together and be the great country that we are.’



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk