A lot of the reaction to this has been in pointing out the double-standard obviously at play here, pointing out that had these two guys been white, it's laughable to think this would have played out in anywhere near the same way. Indeed, the linked article above frames it as an example of implicit bias, even though I'd argue this seems much more like a case of explicit* bias.
Yet at whatever level the bias was operating, it's pretty clear to everyone who's not being willfully obtuse that this ordeal was clearly the result of racial bias. This is one of those situations where you don't need to see empirical studies or have a broad grasp of the literature on racial hierarchies and racialized order in America or any of that fancy pants book learning stuff, you just need to walk to any Starbucks right now and see how many white people are there who obviously have not purchased anything and who are not being handcuffed and perp walked out of there.
But here's where the people who are being willfully obtuse will point out that technically these men were loitering and that's against the law, so the manager did nothing wrong by calling the police, and the police did nothing wrong by arresting them. Because they were objectively breaking the law! You can't break the law and complain when you get arrested!
Hell, that's pretty much the exact argument made by the PPD Commissioner about it. Check out his official statement:
"They did a service that they were called to do. And if you think about it logically, that if a business calls and they say that someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business, (officers) now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties. And they did just that. We are committed to fair and unbiased policing and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department. These officers did absolutely nothing wrong."The problem is that we're pretty much all objectively breaking the law, all the time. Mostly because of the gargantuan number of laws we're subject to, and how incredibly broad and vague many of those laws are. Hell, we don't even know how many laws there actually are. But important for this conversation, the Supreme Court has ruled that as long as someone is objectively breaking the law, the subjective motivations of the police don't matter. So even if the police in this case had said "We're arresting you because we don't want Black people in Starbucks" it still would have been a legal arrest, given that in the technical sense the two men were objectively breaking the law by loitering. In the eyes of the courts, it simply doesn't matter at all that this is a law pretty much everyone has broken at some point in time (hell, this is a law I break all the damn time). Hell, it doesn't matter that loitering laws are almost always so vague as to mean that we're pretty much all violating it all the time.
-Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Richard Ross (on the actions of his officers at the 18th & Spruce Starbucks on 4/12/18)
This plethora of poorly-written and vaguely-defined laws creates a scenario in which we live according to two sets of laws. There are Laws, which are passed by congress and signed by a president or governor, and then there are Laws, which are what the police enforce. Now, the two aren't entirely unrelated, but there are a hell of a lot of Laws which are not really Laws, and more than a few Laws which are not actually Laws. But even more importantly, there are a whole mess of Laws that only become Laws depending on who is breaking them. Which is what obviously happened in Philly. I can all but guarantee there were other people in the store at that very moment breaking the Law but because of their appearance were not deemed by the manager or the police to be breaking the Law.
But even though the Starbucks manager and the police were well within their official legal rights to do what they did, it was an incredibly stupid thing to do. The best analogy I can come up with is one I often use to teach my students the difference between Laws and Laws: it is your complete constitutional right (and has been verified as such by the courts) to walk up to a police officer, flip them off, and say "Fuck you, you piece of shit pig motherfucker." As long as you don't touch the officer or interfere in their work, this is 100% the Law and legal for you to do. Yet despite the fact that it's legal for you to do, it's a stupid thing to do for two reasons -- first, that's a rude thing to say. Not really the kind of thing you should go around saying to people for no reason. But second, even if you don't care about the politeness angle, it's dumb because it's pretty likely going to end in that officer whooping your ass and arresting you for some kind of trumped up charge (my guess would be some combination of disturbing the peace, interfering with an official act, and/or assault of an officer). And even though this is full your constitutional right, good luck getting any court in America to prosecute the officer who beat your ass for calling them a pig motherfucker. Because while your right to call them that is a Law it sure as hell isn't a Law.
The Starbucks incident is a case of that manager and those police officers acting similarly stupid for two very similar reasons; the first is the obvious one that racism is bad. You shouldn't treat people differently because of the color of their skin. Duh. But the second is that even if you don't care about racial equality, it's still dumb for Starbucks and the police to do this. All you need to do is look at the fallout -- look how much backlash the company is experiencing, and just think about what this is doing for police-community relations. Because even though it was all perfectly legal, that doesn't mean it wasn't a terrible idea to arrest these men.
So just like you can call a police officer a stupid pig motherfucker, it's not a good idea to do so, if for no other reason than self-preservation, it's similarly not a good idea to arrest people who are doing nothing actually wrong, if for no other reason than it will (rightfully) lead a lot of people to believe the police are biased and harass Black people for no reason.
*I'm not just being a pedantic asshole here, as I think the distinction is really important (though I definitely am a pedantic asshole). Implicit bias is generally best proffered as an explanation for split-second decisions; there is, after all, a reason it's so often invoked in the case of fatal shootings. Implicit bias happens at a subconscious level, so it's most pertinent in events which require immediate reactions which cannot be consciously processed but instead must rely on unthinking reaction. But in a situation like this, when both the Starbucks folks and the police had plenty of time to mull their decisions and think about what they're doing, it sure seems like they were explicitly making the decision to treat these Black men differently, not reacting based on a lifetime of unconscious social conditioning.