NOEL KING, HOST:
Starbucks will close thousands of stores across the country next month to conduct what they are calling racial bias education training. This comes after an incident in which two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The men were waiting for a friend. They asked to use the restroom and were told no because they hadn't bought anything. An employee then called the police because the men refused to leave. Starbucks has apologized. Here's CEO Kevin Johnson.
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KEVIN JOHNSON: These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable. I am accountable.
KING: Sherrilyn Ifill is one of the experts who will advise Starbucks on this bias training. She's president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Sherrilyn, good morning.
SHERRILYN IFILL: Good morning.
KING: What was your first reaction when you saw the footage of these two men being arrested in a Starbucks?
IFILL: Well, I think like many people, it produced that same very familiar sinking feeling and anger, you know, first that the police were called for what was clearly a matter that did not require law enforcement, and then that these men were arrested by the police in that Starbucks. And, you know, it's part of a very, very long story about African-Americans and public accommodations and how we are treated in public spaces. And in this - and retail establishments. And I think, unfortunately, that video for many of us was too familiar.
KING: Too familiar. And so let me ask you, why did you sign on with Starbucks to conduct this training?
IFILL: Well, I think that's a really, you know, important question because I think that, you know, there are many ways that one can react, that a company like Starbucks can react to something like this. Certainly for myself, I was not interested in the PR angle of it. I don't work for Starbucks. What I was interested in was Starbucks' stated commitment to recognizing the real issue of racial discrimination and being serious about trying to tackle it and also trying to play a leadership role that others can follow. And so, you know, I entered this with a very clear understanding and a very clear expression that, you know, this can't be a one off. You know? We know that one day of training will not change this issue, but we do think it's a window into a possibility of ongoing work that I hope Starbucks will do, that we're asking Starbucks to commit to do, but that we also hope can be modeled by others, as well. You know, we see these incidents happen, and they are incredibly disturbing and troubling. And I think some people want to believe that there's some magic bullet, and there is not. Racism is deeply entrenched in our society, and any real effort to confront it means you have to be in it for the long haul. It means you have to be in it seriously. It means not just training. It means monitoring the effectiveness of that training.
KING: But let me ask you about the training 'cause I imagine people are very curious. You've got a whole tens of thousands of Starbucks employees who will be going through this training. Give us some specifics. What will they be learning?
IFILL: Yeah. Unfortunately, it's very early.
IFILL: I can't give you, and wouldn't at this point, give you the specifics because I think one of the things that I think is really important is for us to make sure that we have all of the information we need to provide the kind of advice that we can. You know, the role that I'm playing is one of guidance and input on making sure that what they do undertake is rigorous and is likely to produce real results. In the coming days, we will learn and know more. But at this point, we're really in the phase of gathering information and trying to make the best judgments and provide the best advice to make sure that this is something real and lasting and substantive.
KING: Sherrilyn Ifill is president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Thank you so much for joining us.
IFILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.