News Briefs

On April 14, the United States, the United Kingdom and France launched airstrikes on three chemical weapons storage and research facilities. This was in response to a chemical attack in Syria on April 7, believed to have been ordered by Syrian President al-Assad./ Courtesy of Wikipedia

US, UK, France launch strike on Syria

Early on the morning of April 14, Syria experienced an attack on three large chemical weapons storage and research facilities. The facilities, which were located near the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs, were targeted by the joint military efforts of the United States, the United Kingdom and France (The New York Times, “Pentagon Says Syria Strikes Hit ‘Heart’ of Chemical Weapons Program,” 04.14.2018). The airstrike, for which there are no known casualties, was in response to a chemical attack in Syria earlier this month.

On April 7, a chemical attack was launched in Syria, releasing poisonous gas near Damascus. It is believed to have been ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (The New York Times, “A Hard Lesson in Syria: Assad Can Still Gas His Own People,” 04.15.2018). The attack was directed at the Syrian people, killing at least 42 Syrians, mostly children and civilians (Vox, “The US bombing of Syria, explained in 400 words,” 04.16.2018). The chemical attack may have been in response to rebel groups in Syria that oppose President Assad. The attacks are believed to have been used to send the messages that living in rebel-controlled areas is dangerous, as well as serve as a show of Assad’s power (US News and World Report, “A Despot’s Desperate Ploy,” 04.10.2017).

The strike on April 14 was meant to eliminate these chemical facilities and in doing so, prevent further gas attacks ordered by the Syrian government. On Twitter, President Trump described this as a “A perfectly executed strike last night,” and added, “Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” (Twitter, [at]realDonaldTrump, 04.14.2018).

However, it remains unclear whether the targeted chemical sites were indeed still being actively used by the Syrian government. This uncertainty is due to the fact that the strike on the chemical facilities did not result in any casualties and did not result in the release of any chemicals. While Trump was optimistic, other United States government officials are less so. Lt. General and Leader of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon Kenneth F. McKenzie believes that the strike helped squash future plans to engage in chemical strikes, but does not believe that all resources were destroyed and said, “I’m not going to say that they are going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future” (The New York Times, “A Hard Lesson in Syria,” 04.15.2018).

Beyond the immediate and obvious effects of the global intervention in Syria, the joint strike on Saturday also had repercussions on the world stage. While the airstrike was led by the United States in alliance with the UK and France, Syria has allies as well, perhaps the most notable among them being Russia.

The chemical attack and subsequent retaliatory airstrike led by the United States has escalated tensions with the Russian government. In the day following the attack, Russian leader Vladimir Putin supported Assad’s claims that the April 7 chemical attack did not originate from the orders of Syrian government officials. On April 15, Putin labeled the U.S.-led airstrike on Syrian chemical plants an act of aggression. “Vladimir Putin, in particular, emphasized that if such actions continue in violation of the UN Charter, this will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” the Kremlin said in a statement (NBC News, “Putin warns of global ‘chaos’ after U.S.-led strike on Syria,” 04.15.2018).

Assad continues to deny involvement in the chemical attack. However, chemical arms experts are being blocked from examining the site from which the chemicals were released. This ban is believed to be in place so that the Syrian and Russian governments can destroy any evidence of being involved in the attack (The New York Times, “Chemical Arms Experts Blocked From Site of Syria Attack,” 04.16.2018).

—Pazit Schrecker, Guest Reporter

On Thursday, April 12, two Black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia in an incident that quickly went viral and led to widespread criticism of Starbucks.

Reportedly, the two men entered the Starbucks to use a bathroom, but workers told them that it was only for customers. The men then sat at table without purchasing a beverage. A manager asked the men to leave, but they declined, stating that they were waiting to meet a friend. The manager then called the police (CNN, “Police Release 911 Call in Arrest of Black Starbucks Customers,” 04.17.2018).

In his 911 call, the manager said, “Hi, I have two gentlemen at my café that are refusing to make a purchase or leave. I’m at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce” (CNN).

The men were arrested on suspicion of trespassing. One of the men went out of the Starbucks in handcuffs and the other soon followed. However, they were later released after the prosecutor’s office in Philadelphia reviewed the case and refused to charge them because of a lack of evidence that a crime was committed (The New York Times, “Starbucks C.E.O. Apologizes After Arrests of 2 Black Men,” 04.15.2018).

The video recording of the incident rapidly became popular on social media and resulted in public outrage. Starbucks apologized on Twitter on Saturday afternoon, writing, “We apologize to the two individuals and our customers and are disappointed this led to an arrest. We take these matters seriously and clearly have more work to do when it comes to how we handle incidents in our stores. We are reviewing our policies and will continue to engage with the community and the police department to try to ensure these types of situations never happen in any of our stores” (Twitter, [at]Starbucks, 04.14.2018).

In addition, Starbucks CEO Kevin R. Johnson acknowledged his company’s serious mistake and said he hopes to meet the two men in person to offer a face-to-face apology. Johnson wrote, “Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome—the basis for the call to the Philadelphia Police Department was wrong. Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did” (Starbucks Newsroom, “Starbucks CEO: Reprehensible Outcome in Philadelphia”).

However, many feel that the company’s apology is not enough. A huge protest criticizing Starbucks and demanding its sincere apology happened in front of the Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia’s Center City on Monday, April 16. Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who met with Kevin R. Johnson and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kennedy, delivered his speech at the protest, stating that their apologies were just lip service. He said, “We want to see action. We want to see an actual plan to make sure that those individuals that come to and from Starbucks…are respected and they can go to the establishment without fear of being targeted because of their skin color” (CNN, “Café Shut Down After Protesters Enter, Chanting ‘Starbucks Coffee is Anti- black,’” 04.16.2018).

Furthermore, many are contributing to this protest by sharing the hashtag #BoyscottStarbucks on Twitter. The phrase has been shared tens of thousands of times (BBC, “Starbucks: Protesters Call for Boycott After Black Men Arrested,” 04.16.2018).

Starbucks, as a result, announced on Tuesday, April 17, that it would close more than 8,000 of its stores in the United States for a day on May 29 in order to offer anti-bias training to 175,000 workers, about half of its total number of employees. Kevin R. Johnson noted, “I’ve spend the last few days in Philadelphia in with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it” (The New York Times, “Starbucks to Close 8,000 U.S. Stores for Racial-Bias Training After Arrests,” 4.17.2018).

—Young Ju Chang, Guest Reporter

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