In 2014 a Starbucks employee in Milwaukee made a phone call to police that resulted in the fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton. Hamilton, 31, was sleeping outside near the Starbucks when the employee called law enforcement. After what an officer said became a physical confrontation, he fired 14 shots at Hamilton, killing him.
For Hamilton’s brother Nate, the recent arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson in a Philadelphia Starbucks brought back painful memories.
“These aren’t isolated situations. It’s a culture within the business world that needs to be changed,” says Nate Hamilton.
He stopped patronizing Starbucks when his brother was killed. The Hamilton family say that they initially wanted to work with Starbucks to create awareness around issues facing black Americans but allege that the company had its own goals in mind. Starbucks eventually launched its “#RaceTogether” campaign in 2015, in response to “racially charged tragedies” across the country.
“In 2015, when we met with Howard Schultz, and they didn’t say anything about the #RaceTogether initiative,” says Hamilton. “They initially wanted to talk about building a new Starbucks in the urban community and putting a little bit of black culture in it to make people feel accepted, and we said, ‘No, that’s not a good idea for you guys to come in and still profit off of the community.’”
Since the arrest of Nelson and Robinson in Philadelphia, Starbucks has announced that it will close 8,000 of its locations on May 29 to hold “racial bias” training. Shani Akilah of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative in Philadelphia is actively organizing in response to the incident at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce streets and says more must be done.
“If Starbucks knows what’s good for them, they will change their policies,” Akilah tells The Root. “They will add explicit policies around not calling the police.”
Some of the demands created by organizers in Philadelphia include the firing of the police officers who arrested Nelson and Robinson and that Starbucks “create and publicize a new policy that expressly disallows calling the police on citizens,” Akilah says.
For Nate Hamilton, nothing will bring back his brother. But his fight continues through the Coalition for Justice and a new documentary, The Blood Is at the Doorstep, which sheds light on his brother’s story: “It’s just hurtful to see that in 2018, black people are being kicked out of establishments. The only thing that’s missing is a sign on the door that says ‘White Only.’”