Police officers detain a man inside a Starbucks cafe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 12, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. Picture taken April 12, 2018.
Police officers detain a man inside a Starbucks cafe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 12, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. Picture taken April 12, 2018. MELISSA DEPINO/via Reuters

Starbucks is facing major PR disaster after one of its branches in the US had two black men arrested for allegedly loitering and trespassing. CEO Kevin Johnson has apologised for the incident, saying the video, shot by another customer, was “very hard to watch.”

In the video, posted by Twitter user Melissa DePino, the two men can be seen being quietly led out of the Philadelphia coffee shop in handcuffs on Thursday. Some of the other patrons question why the men are being arrested by at least six officers.

The clip also shows a white man questioning the officers. The man was identified to be real estate investor Andrew Yaffe by the Philadelphia Inquirer. He attempted to explain to the officers that the two men were waiting for him.

According to witnesses, Starbucks staff called the police on the men because they hadn’t ordered anything. The men were apparently real estate brokers and were at the store to meet a family friend. They allegedly asked to use the bathroom, but the staff denied them, saying only paying customers could use the facility.

They were escorted to the police precinct and were only released after more than eight hours. The District Attorney refused to press charges because there had been no evidence that a crime was committed. Starbucks also expressed no intention to press charges.

“The two young men politely asked why they were being told to leave and were not given a reason other than the manager wanted them to leave,” Lauren, who shot the video using her cell phone, told ABC News. “The two men stayed calm and did not raise their voices once. Everyone else in the Starbucks, however, was appalled.”

Lauren also said another woman entered the store minutes before the men were arrested and was given the bathroom code without buying anything. Another person inside the store also apparently announced that she had been sitting at Starbucks “for the past couple of hours without buying anything.” Only the two men were arrested.

In a statement, Johnson expressed his “deepest apologies” to the men arrested. He said they were going to investigate the incident and would make necessary changes to their practices to prevent such things from happening again.

“Most importantly, I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology,” he said. “We have immediately begun a thorough investigation of our practices. In addition to our own review, we will work with outside experts and community leaders to understand and adopt best practices.

“The video shot by customers is very hard to watch and the actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks Mission and Values. Creating an environment that is both safe and welcoming for everyone is paramount for every store. Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome — the basis for the call to the Philadelphia police department was wrong. Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did.”

While the Starbucks CEO was apologetic, Philadelphia police Commissioner Richard Ross said the officers did nothing wrong. Ross, who is African American, said on a Facebook video on Saturday that the officers acted appropriately even after the two men refused to leave the store and insulted the officers’ pay grade.

“The police did not just happen upon this event. They did not just walk into Starbucks to get a coffee,” Ross said. “They were called there for a service, and that service had to do with quelling a disturbance that had to do with trespassing. These officers did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Reactions on social media have been largely in support of the men arrested. As commenters have pointed out, the men wouldn’t have been arrested if they were white. If they were trespassing, they would have escorted them out of the premises but not arrested. The number of arresting officers was also discussed as it seemed an overreaction to a non-violent call.