On July 5, a local news station in Tempe, Arizona, reported that on July 4, a patron at a Starbucks asked one of the baristas to tell a group of police officers enjoying a beverage and a break to move or leave because the patron “did not feel safe.” The police officers left.
The confrontation, which is puzzling on a number of levels, prompted a brief back-and-forth public relations dialogue between the Tempe Officers Association and Starbucks. The interaction went viral on social media, bumping it to the national stage.
Though isolated, it still seems clear that the incident demonstrates a growing trend of disrespect toward law enforcement and the complex relationship that Americans have with them.
Starbucks vs. Tempe Police
After the incident occurred, both the Tempe Officers Association and Starbucks had something to say about the unusual conflict. In a statement, the Tempe Officers Association gave Starbucks a pass, although they expressed disappointment:
“This treatment of public safety workers could not be more disheartening. While the barista was polite, making such a request at all was offensive. Unfortunately, such treatment has become all too common in 2019. We know this is not a national policy at Starbucks Corporate and we look forward to working collaboratively with them on this important dialogue.”
It’s hard to imagine the irony the association must have felt: Although the news about this incident didn’t break until July 5 and didn’t really blow up until July 6, it happened on July 4—a day when we as a nation typically gather not only to honor our country’s decision to break free from tyranny, but also to honor our military and law enforcement, who continue to sacrifice so that we remain free.
At least, in the spirit of good business practice, Starbucks seemed amicable. The Tempe Police Department reported it had communicated with Starbucks’ corporate office about the issue.
“It is our hope that the incident which occurred at Starbucks was an isolated incident between one community member and a single employee rather than an entire organization,” the department said in a statement. “Starbucks stated they are aware of this incident and advised this interaction is not in line with Starbucks values and will continue to work in strengthening their relationship with law enforcement.”
However, it did prompt what seemed like a call to boycott:
Don't appreciate @Starbucks asking our #Tempe cops to leave your establishment on the #4thofjuly2019. Several of those cops are #veterans who fought for this country! #ZeroRespect pic.twitter.com/oGaDKhlYX3
— Tempe Officers Association (@ToaAz) July 5, 2019
It’s not clear why the Starbucks patron felt unsafe and wanted the police officers to leave the venue. Because it’s not been reported, I want to include the caveat that it’s possible the person has a personal, painful history with cops. There’s a chance the person has lost a family member or friend at a police officer’s hand, though that seems slim. Or perhaps that person just associates police officers with the receipt of one too many fines. It isn’t clear.
I do understand this in a way—I’ve had a few awkward, unsafe, and even semi-hostile encounters with police officers who seemed more like men on a power trip than men who wanted to enforce the law. However, the fact that the person went so far as to ask them to leave is a step that most would not take. I still generally feel safer in a public place with a cop than not.
If you are in a coffee shop with six cops, that’s the safest space you’ll ever be in.
— Robert J. O'Neill (@mchooyah) July 7, 2019
How America Views Law Enforcement
Although we don’t know the person’s motive for booting the cops out of Starbucks, a few hypotheses come to mind. Statistics show opinions on law enforcement are deeply divided among political affiliations and race (white and black, primarily).
In a 2018 survey, 79 percent of white people gave the services of law enforcement an “excellent” or “good” rating, compared to 64 percent of black people. That’s an improvement from a 2017 Pew Research poll that found 53 percent of white people view police officers “very warmly,” compared to 22 percent of black people. When Pew compared political ideologies, the divide increased: 74 percent of Republicans view cops “very warmly,” compared to 33 percent of Democrats.
Another hypothesis is the mainstream media’s portrayal of law enforcement, which often seems skewed toward only praise or criticism, although an occasional outlet tries to approach it with fairness. Crime is complex; the way law enforcement in the United States handles it is also nuanced. Yet, often with the media, we only see one side or the other.
Of Course Cops Carry Guns
Police officers are charged with enforcing laws and keeping Americans safe—period. One of the ways they do this is by being armed and trained to use a firearm. Some people—maybe our now-notorious Starbucks patron—might have felt unsafe because all the officers were armed and presented as a kind of trigger-happy posse. Unless that person has been ambushed by cops previously, this is a by-product of the anti-gun culture that’s been sweeping the United States for the past several years, and which remains one of the grossest misunderstandings of guns and crime to date.
Due to “dash cameras” and body cameras, we as average citizens have been made privy to scenarios we have likely never seen before, especially when they’re uploaded to YouTube or other social media. I’ve seen news stories of cops saving lives, and I’ve seen outrageous videos of cops shooting people who are immobilized, fearful, and pleading for their lives.
With particularly egregious videos, instances caught on tape of cops murdering a suspect because of a quick trigger finger or a “shoot to kill” mentality, it might be hard for some people not to become suspicious or fearful. While there are compelling reasons why cops are trained this way, I do believe this training should be modified to avoid the deaths of innocent people due to an officer following this method.
Still, even though the Starbucks patron in Arizona reported feeling “unsafe,” I found myself asking: What would be more unsafe? A group of officers in Starbucks drinking an iced latte or a crazed person robbing a Starbucks at gunpoint—and there being no police officers to be found?
Despite mistakes police officers have made, they’re only human. I’d rather know they’re close and available than face a perpetrator alone.
In Harm’s Way and Doing Good
Despite some of the things people might have seen or the stories we know about inept cowards, the majority of officers put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect strangers.
You can count me among the first to decry a speed trap or to criticize an overzealous, power-hungry cop; however, law enforcement has a place in our society and is more often than not a force for good.
While it’s nearly impossible to calculate how many lives that law enforcement have saved even in one year, the job comes with the requirement that each man and woman is courageous, sacrificial, and brave. These are the people who run to danger when we run from it. These are the people who answer the 911 call when a child says he’s lost. These are the people who will break down a door if a woman calls and reports she’s being beaten. They’re imperfect because everyone is—and one bad apple shouldn’t ruin their whole reputation.
According to statistics reported to the FBI in 2018, 106 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2018. Of these, 55 officers died as a result of felonious acts, and 51 officers died in accidents. This is a job I wouldn’t have the courage to do, so I remain thankful to those who do—whether they’re stopping a crime spree or sipping coffee at Starbucks.
Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.