A Tempe Story

I went on a little road trip today.

I'd been meaning to go and peek in at the Arizona State University bookstore in downtown Tempe, and I got a hankering for some coffee. And, due to something that happened last week, I decided I'd kill two birds with one stone.

Or a hockey puck. That's what I ended up getting at the Sun Devil Book Store on the ASU campus. But I digress.

First, a brief overview: I live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, aka "The Valley of the Sun." Specifically, I live in Mesa, which is in the eastern part of the Valley. The Valley is, for the want of a better term, big. Really big. As in, it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half to traverse the 84 miles from one end to the other – and that's all freeway driving. Nothing in this city is really "close," but at least on the East side of the Valley, the cities tend to run into each other.

So – Arizona State University's main campus is located in downtown Tempe, which is a "sandwich" city of sorts. It's wedged in between the two largest cities in the metro area (Phoenix and Mesa). It also has characteristics of the cities to its immediate north (Scottsdale, a high-end community) and south (Chandler, a more suburban city). It's very unique in a lot of ways: it's a college town with ASU; it's a tech haven, with the likes of Amazon, FirstSolar, Honeywell, Symantec, and Microsoft all having offices there; it's a recreational magnet with Tempe Town Lake and Marina and numerous music and arts venues.

It also has had its share of controversy. Back in 1988, the Cardinals football team of the NFL relocated to Tempe and Sun Devil Stadium after the city of St. Louis refused to build a new football-only facility for the Bidwell family. Tempe then attempted to bid on hosting a Super Bowl at the stadium, which had hosted the Fiesta Bowl continuously since 1971. They made a successful bid on Super Bowl XXVII in March of 1990.

Only one problem: the previous governor of Arizona, Evan Mecham, had rescinded a decision by his predecessor to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in January a state holiday. Though Mecham had been impeached by the time the Super Bowl was awarded, a ballot initiative was made to have the third Monday in January made a state holiday. The NFL even made it known before the election that a vote against the holiday would mean losing the Super Bowl. Long story short: the initiative failed, and the NFL pulled the Super Bowl from Tempe. They wouldn't get it back until Super Bowl XXX in 1996 – after voters had finally approved an MLK holiday.

There was also that little issue last year about the self-driving Uber vehicle that hit a homeless pedestrian just outside of downtown Tempe, but this little screed is getting a bit too long as it is.

Anyways – North Tempe is the area that is located north of Tempe Town Lake (naturally). Tempe Town Lake is made from the damming of the Salt River to the west and east of downtown Tempe. The area to the north is also north of the major east-west artery of Tempe, the Red Mountain Freeway (also known as the Loop 202). The eastern edge of downtown (and the ASU campus, mostly) is on a street that is somewhat ironically named Rural Road. On the north side of the river, it changes names to Scottsdale Road.

The road is a typical major thoroughfare in the city (45 MPH, two lanes each direction plus a turning lane in the middle). Just before it reaches the north border of Tempe with Scottsdale at McKellips Road, there's a minor shopping center on the east side anchored by a Food City grocery store and a Dunkin' Donuts shop. (Sorry, I'm a traditionalist; I don't drop the "Donuts" from the name.) On the west side is a Philly's Cheesteak restaurant, a used BMW dealership (creatively named "Beemer Haus") and – right on the corner of McKellips and Scottsdale – a Starbucks Coffee shop.

(Sorry about the image being on its side - not sure why it does that. Something on Google's end?)

This Starbucks is nothing spectacular; there are only seemingly hundreds of them in the Valley. This one's shaped pretty normal for a stand-alone store: parking lot in the shape of an L, around a building that has a drive-thru that circles around on the west side and an outdoor patio on the east side overlooking Scottsdale Road. The patio, as is typical of most Phoenix area Starbucks, has a partially-covered section with umbrella-covered tables that extends out to the wall that separates the sidewalk right of way and the shop's property.

The main entrance is essentially the only way in and out of the store, and it's right by where you pick up your drinks and right next to the creamers and sweeteners and such. This is a major point to remember, as it is likely a contributing factor to what happened on the morning of July 4th, 2019.

Now, I was not there that day, but from all of the various sources, this is what I've been able to piece together – and come up with a reasonable explanation as to what happened.

That morning, of course, was Independence Day. It's generally a busy day for police and other first responders in any large city, as it's a day of parades, fireworks, celebrations and whatnot – and police presence is pretty much necessary in all of these. So, one of the officers from the Tempe Police Department who was a regular customer of the store apparently suggested that some of his other fellow officers join him for coffee at the location before their long holiday shifts began in earnest.

Now, I would have to think that for many of the few hundred-plus Starbucks in the Valley, the presence of six officers would be a welcome thing. If you were already there and saw all of these officers show up and order coffee, there'd be no problem – you'd probably feel like you were in the safest Starbucks in the state of Arizona at that point. However, seeing six cop cars pull into a relatively small parking lot (and that lot is pretty small; I had trouble finding a spot during my visit, mostly because the drive-thru takes up most of the potential parking area) might be a bit unsettling.

Let's back up a moment: back in late May of this year, there was a rather significant incident involving a Phoenix police officer at an apartment complex in east Phoenix (roughly 10-12 miles west of the Starbucks). The incident had the officer drawing his gun on a man, his fiancée, their two children, and two other women. The reason? One of the children had inadvertently taken a toy doll from a Family Dollar located north of the apartments. The officer thought he saw the man reach down toward the middle of his front seat, and apparently believed he had a gun. He complied with the officer's request to get out of the car with his hands up, but the wife didn't – because her two children were in the back seat.

The family's side of the story says the officer basically came to the car windows with gun drawn. There was some pushing and shoving – and some rough treatment of the daughter – before the two were let go.

This started calls not only for the officers involved to be fired, but into investigations into other similar cases of police "presuming guilt until innocence" and "excessive use of force." And yes, as it just so happens, the 22-year old gentleman involved was a black male.

Back to our Starbucks on the Fourth of July: the officers had ordered their drinks and were waiting for them – quite probably at the same place where I took the picture that accompanies this little essay. In the photo, you can see that the majority of seating in the store is to the back and right; the patio is located to the right as well. The bathrooms are all the way in the back. (The creamer, sweeteners, napkins and condiments were behind me as I surreptitiously took this photo.)

Apparently, someone who was seated either toward the back or on the patio saw all these officers standing there by the entrance and felt uncomfortable – probably, in my estimation, because they were blocking what you could easily perceive was the only exit to the building. Though the patio is open to the south, it may have felt somewhat confining because of the wall and the presence of several police cars in the relatively small parking lot. (An aside: pretty much every Starbucks I've ever regularly visited has had a small or nearly non-existent parking lot. I've never quite understood this, but it must be some sort of formula from the main office in Seattle.)

For some reason, a customer – male? female? No one knows, and those who do aren't saying, and for the sake of this narrative, it doesn't matter – spoke to one of the baristas to ask the officers to move. According to reports, the customer "didn't feel safe" and wanted them to "move out of (their) line of sight or leave entirely."

The barista, in my humble opinion, then failed her sanity check. Of course, I am being rather presumptuous on believing the barista to be female, since I was served by a male barista when I entered the store this morning, and there appeared to be only one or two workers behind the counter who were female. However, it is purely out of convenience that I suggest this was a female barista, but it could have been anyone of any sex, race, creed, color, or origin. Whoever it was, what they should have said is something to this effect:
"Sir, this is a Starbucks, and those policemen do come in here for coffee – at least one of them regularly. They have just as much right to be here and order coffee as you do. I can make your order to go if you'd like, and can call you when it's ready and you can pick it up over here (on the side away from the entrance). But I'm not going to tell them to move or leave. That would not only be disrespectful to law enforcement, but it'd be a huge headache for my manager, the store, and the company. So – what can I get you?"
Solves a lot of problems, right?

But no, they did not do this. Instead, the barista went up to the one officer and made the request of them to move out of the line of sight of this customer who "didn't feel safe" – or, failing that, leave entirely.

The officers, to their credit, did not apparently make a huge scene about this, and just took their coffees and left. It wasn't until after they had left the premises that they made note of it through the Tempe Officers Association about being asked to leave.

As to my visit: as I was about to enter the restaurant, I did hear someone in another car saying something about "they don't serve policemen in there." Upon entering, I pretty much came to the conclusion that the officers were all standing at the entrance to the store, which would look rather imposing to anyone coming in for a coffee. In fact, I'd posit that our "customer" may have come around to the side door instead of the front because of the police, and maybe it was too much for them.

As stated previously, we do have a lot of people who've had negative experiences with the police, and not every single one of them are persons of color or perceived "minority" status. (Of course, here in the Valley, it could be argued that Caucasians are in the minority due to the sheer number of Mexican-American and Native Americans living here, but this isn't the time for that debate.)

So this is where the next question comes up: why didn't one of the officers investigate or "reach out" to the concerned customer about why they didn't feel safe? Or better yet, why didn't the barista simply tell the customer to talk to the cops about their concerns themselves?

So many things went wrong in this situation. And it appears that Starbucks upper management, along with possibly city officials, are trying to hash out what went wrong. When I was there, I was greeted by at least three other people in the customer seating area as I went to place my order for my usual Grande Skinny Caramel Macchiato at the counter.

It doesn't appear that the publicity did anything to the traffic at this particular Starbucks. There were pretty much the expected amount of customers at the given time of day (just before the lunch hour), and the drive-thru was typically full, though not backed up onto either McKellips or Scottsdale.

The only thing that I noticed as I headed back down to the ASU campus was that the water for the coffee seemed a bit off. I know from personal experience that the water used is a main affect of the flavor of coffee – and for some reason, the macchiato that I had tasted like the water was a bit too hard. It was still drinkable, but I think in the future I'm not going to stray much from the two nearby Starbucks stores to my home in Mesa for a cuppa.
(Sorry about the image being on its side - not sure why it does that. Something on Google's end?)
Many pictures are recorded as-is but with a flag denoting "this is sideways" or "this is upside-down" which is respected when the picture is displayed. BUT not every image program respects this flag, so some pictures that look fine on a phone or in an email will rotate unexpectedly when displayed elsewhere.

People wearing colors of a gang known to violently kill people without justification went into a starbucks. Is it that surprising that people felt unsafe?
So this is where the next question comes up: why didn't one of the officers investigate or "reach out" to the concerned customer about why they didn't feel safe?
I think that would have been the absolute worst thing one of the officers could have done. Regardless of whether you think the customer was justified in their concern or not, they felt that concern. To have one - or more - police officer walk up to them to ask why they don't trust the cops? With more police officers looking on? When they are already scared of cops? Almost certainly would have just panicked the customer even more & maybe escalated the situation where the cops choosing to just leave successfully defused the situation.
People wearing colors of a gang known to violently kill people without justification went into a starbucks. Is it that surprising that people felt unsafe?
Asking the Crips or Don Corleone to move because their presence makes you feel unsafe would be a very foolhardy thing to do.
Saying "I don't feel safe with all these black guys sporting gang wear" would be purely racist.
Claming the cops are just a violent gang shows how warped your world view is.

Anyway, yes, it's a problem that people see a police officer and think "threat" rather than "safety", and yes, that is in large part on some parts and departments of the police mishandling themselves and people around them.
You're right, its not just colors its an explicit uniform. You could be right in that it wasn't smart to ask them to leave, as they are likely to act out and try to get revenge in some way, but that doesn't make it unreasonable.
I think everyone involved handled themselves perfectly. Save the bumbling response from Starbucks corporate office. Without knowing what was going though the customers mind at the time we're just making up strawman arguements.

First of all, I can definitely see why engaging the customer was not a good idea.

Secondly, I can also see the intimidation factor - you see six cops in uniform at a Starbucks (and never did get a count on whether they were in city cruisers or personal vehicles), and you'd think something was going on at the store. Heck, who knows, maybe that's what intimidated the person who asked the barista about having them move.

Thirdly, I do wonder in reading between the lines if the barista didn't do this him/herself, because the officers were essentially blocking business. It's one thing to politely tell the officers, "Hey, you're kinda blocking our entrance, is it possible you could move somewhere else?" instead of what was presented. Unless, of course, that's exactly what happened and said TPO took it personally.

Lastly, @blotsfan your reactions to things like this is tiresome. I took some time to try to figure out what was going on behind the story that got everyone in a tizzy on social media. What, if I may ask, did you do - other than hold on to beliefs that are so out there that it's honestly incomprehensible you believe them. I'm not trying to solve all the world's problems, but I'm still not holding on to long-held grudges like "his toe was in the crease" or "Trump eatz babies ZOMG".

I'm trying to understand what happened. Not judge before I even walk into a place. UNDERSTAND. That's something we don't do enough of in this day and age.

And it appears you don't want to do it, either.
Lastly, @blotsfan your reactions to things like this is tiresome. I took some time to try to figure out what was going on behind the story that got everyone in a tizzy on social media. What, if I may ask, did you do - other than hold on to beliefs that are so out there that it's honestly incomprehensible you believe them. I'm not trying to solve all the world's problems, but I'm still not holding on to long-held grudges like "his toe was in the crease" or "Trump eatz babies ZOMG".
I like that your two examples of my "grudges" are a sports thing and the idea that trump is horrible. Don't worry though, I don't think he literally eats babies. He just has numerous accusations of sexual assault, some from minors, and has set up a system of locking children up where they can be sexually assaulted themselves. What a petty thing to be bitter over.
Nope. Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent. At this juncture.

Here's the thing: cops come in to coffee shop, en masse, for coffee. Something that they generally don't do, but it was a holiday. This spooks the people in the coffee shop, who aren't used to handling police officers. Words are said, trying to be polite, but meanings are crossed and the officers take offense. Truth is that it was the equivalent of a cop setting up a speed trap at the entrance to your workplace's parking lot. Cops don't realize this, climate around the shop is distrusting, mountain made out of a mole hill, and finally, a week later, cooler heads seem to have prevailed. Though now about three-quarters of Arizona thinks Starbucks don't serve police officers.
But you have no evidence that is the thing, there is no evidence period. It could just as easily have been the fire marshal making a point about them blocking the door, a frat boy worried about the kilo of coke in his trousers or an 8 foot tall woman suffering from agoraphobia.