Civil Rights

Starbucks Brings Jim Crow to Venice

By Brian Connolly

I ran up the sidewalk to the Starbucks on Navy & Main near Venice Beach, California. It was still dark out at 6:10 AM, but I had to get to my new job with the Salvation Army. I’d been sleeping on the sidewalk nearby for the last few months, homeless. I’d lost my job through no fault of my own at the height of the great recession. Inside, I put my huge double sleeping-bag pack under the table where I usually sat. Though a straight-A from the University of Delaware, I definitely “looked homeless.” I walked up to the counter and ordered my usual sausage sandwich, grande coffee and LA times when the new manager there, a white girl called Rebecca informed me that my status as a Starbucks customer had changed. She told me that because of a “hygiene issue” that from now on I would be buying their products there but that I had to immediately leave the store – I could no longer sit with the rest of the patrons. Time stopped. She was not reserving the right to refuse service – she was making my patronage of a Starbucks restaurant conditional as condescendingly and tritely as if she was explaining to “colored” at the counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 that that was “just the way it is.”

Though I’m white, from an affluent family, a highly educated and articulate Phi Beta Kappa because I “looked homeless” she tried to inform me that I and other “homeless” individuals would be adhering to this Jim Crow-style condition in the future. It was how things were going to be when I returned and was starting right away – I could buy Starbucks, Inc. product, but I had to immediately leave.

The Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws enacted in the U.S. between 1876 and 1965. Most of them were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Laws such as: blacks couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as whites, blacks had curfews, that blacks could spend their money in “white” restaurants, but there’d be conditions such as they had to enter through the back door or they could order to-go, but they couldn’t actually sit with the other patrons. Some of the most hated, blatantly racist, adhorent laws ever enacted – and Rebecca the manager of a Starbucks on the Venice/Santa Monica border was using the same reasoning to clear the “homeless looking” people from her store.

I’d never experienced discrimination before personally in my life, never, but there was only one word for what I began experiencing from that moment on. Rage. Burning, seething, caustic rage. I refused her “conditions” and went down the street to the other Starbucks and spoke to the manager there, a young Latino girl, as nice as could be. When I explained the conditions that Rebecca had stated earlier, she was flabbergasted. Refuse service, sure, but to tell someone that their money was good but that after they paid that they weren’t a full customer? With most “homeless looking” people actually being people of color what could be more racist, more discriminatory. Flash back to 1960 in North Carolina. The similar dynamic was in play back then as Rebecca was trying to initiate in 2013. White restaurants definitely wanted blacks’ money. Blacks might constitute 30% or 40% of a small restaurant’s revenue, just like the homeless make up a great deal of business in this equation – but with Jim Crow there were always “the conditions.”

Enter Starbucks, Inc. – under analogous pressures due to the crimes of the banks, the homeless population of LA and other cities has swollen to crises proportions. When you’re homeless you learn the faces of who’s homeless from the homeless centers and churches. You see them “out in the world” later in the day and maybe they look homeless – sometimes not. Many live out of their cars. The first thing I began noticing after I became homeless myself was just how many people at the library – and at inexpensive restaurants like Starbucks – were homeless. The homeless are big business to Starbucks, Inc., but there is NEVER an excuse to bring back second-class status to any American under such circumstances. Refuse service, sure.

Refuse dignity to any human being, never.

Occupy!

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10 replies »

  1. Brian, not only am I a frequent patron of the Starbucks you targeted with your attempted “hit piece”, but I’m also a witnessed the event you so clumsily distorted.

    First of all, you were asked to leave because of your offensive body odor! You know that because you were politely told so by the Barista. Remember the “Hygiene issue” you glossed over, during your rant? That was about your offensive B.O. You even said it in the article and yet, you still try to convince everyone it was all about your living condition.

    It doesn’t take a very big man to attack a young woman working hard just trying to maintain a very reasonable standard for her customers. After all, no one wants to eat or drink next to someone who smells like stale urine, as you did that morning.

    Your poor hygiene and offensive body odor are not a result of you being homeless. That’s just pure neglect. You can take a shower and wash your clothes at any number of shelters and churches in Venice just as many homeless people do.

    Furthermore, to suggest that you face the same persecution as the African Americans did under the Jim Crow laws, from a young woman at Starbucks, is ridiculously offensive. It certainly highlights your ignorance.

    No laws are made to impede the progress of the homeless or in any way attempt to make them second class citizens. Not to mention the countless other offenses represented by the Jim Crow laws.

    When you smell as foul as you did that morning, no one will care that you’re as you said “…white, from an affluent family, a highly educated and articulate Phi Beta Kappa.” Of course, the maturity level of your article has given me doubts about those claims too.

    Take a damn shower Brian. It’ll be good for you, even if you don’t come back to Starbucks.

    Shannon James

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  2. Brian,
    I havery been going to that corner for my coffee for the past 15 years. I’m also am from a good family, college educated, white and have been homeless. My homelessness was as a result of drugs and alcohol as is the case of many other homeless people. Now, I am a devoted Starbucks patron at that corner and subsequently every city I travel. I myself ha e thrown out unruly, disrespectful, stinking people REFARDLESS of race, sex or economic situation. I also want you and every other person who disrespects this community that I won’t wait for Starbucks and will throw them out myself. I’m not from here but made my home here. If I smell your disrespect of yourself and your own hygiene sorry but I’m not taking your cap or anyone else’s regards of race, religion, economic situation. This all boils down to love and common sense and if you lack those please go be by yourself. Just one last note I do take into consideration mental illness but not stinky educated homeless people.

    Paul Martin

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  3. Brian,
    I have been going to that corner for my coffee for the past 15 years. I’m also am from a good family, college educated, white and have been homeless. My homelessness was as a result of drugs and alcohol as is the case of many other homeless people. Now, I am a devoted Starbucks patron at that corner and subsequently every city I travel. I myself have thrown out unruly, disrespectful, stinking people REGARDLESS of race, sex or economic situation. I also want you and every other person who disrespects this community that I won’t wait for Starbucks and will throw them out myself. I’m not from here but made my home here. If I smell your disrespect of yourself and your own hygiene sorry but I’m not taking your crap or anyone else’s regards of race, religion of economic situation. This all boils down to love and common sense and if you lack those please go be by yourself. Just one last note I do take into consideration mental illness but not stinky educated homeless people.

    Paul Martin

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  4. The comments following this piece don’t surprise me. On the pampered westside of town comfort is paramount, everything else be damned! What’s missing is the trivial recognition of principle: don’t kick a person when they’re down. Shannon James, Paul Martin, nobody taught you right when you were young. It’s plain to see.

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  5. What kicking are you talking about?
    How was I not “…taught right” when I was young?
    And to what principal are you referring?

    I don’t think you finish reading before you replied?

    The only thing I can respond to is your “pampered” comment.

    I work hard every day to maintain my life here in Venice. I certainly don’t get “pampered” by Starbucks.

    And if you think, NOT sitting next to someone that smells like urine is pampering, then you and I have very different definitions of pampering.

    The articles author is the one that thinks his comfort matters, while everything else be damned. He is after all, the one who thinks his comfort should be considered while those around him should tolerate his foul smelling body odor.

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  6. It would appear the author could resolve this situation by bathing and by washing his clothes. I too would not want to sit next to a smelly person and I would not patronize a business full of stinky people. If they are that nasty, they maybe spreading disease or could be crawling with bedbugs, lice, whatever.

    If the author comes from this affluent, wealthy family can’t they send him money to get a place to stay? There’s something he’s clearly not telling!

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