A couple of weeks ago, Hasta Muerta (Espanol for “until death”), a coffee shop in Oakland, CA refused to serve an Oakland police officer. Which is kind of surprising since cops and coffee go together like peas and carrots.
The officer wasn’t a white guy or a black guy or even an Asian guy. He was Latino. And this little coffee shot decided that he wasn’t going to be served because cops threaten the “physical and emotional” safety of the neighborhood, and the shop’s patrons.
Hasta Muerta is located in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, and if you’re not familiar with it (I am…I used to ride the BART from San Francisco over to Oakland several times a month), it was made infamous because of a 2009 shooting of an unarmed black man, Oscar Grant, by a BART officer, Johannes Mehserle. Grant was one of several people detained for rowdy, drunken behavior by BART officers on New Year’s Day 2009. He, along with several others, was forced to lie face down on the floor. Officer Mehserle shot Grant in the back.
Officer Meserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter (it came out at trial that his gun accidently misfired as he was withdrawing from his holster), and sentenced to three years in prison.
In typical Oakland fashion, there were riots after the Mehserle trial because Alameda County prosecutors couldn’t get him convicted of murder.
Which brings me back to Fruitvale. The overall crime rate in Fruitvale is 245% higher than the national average. For every 100,000 people, 26.78 crimes occur in the neighborhood on a daily basis (that’s a lot). You have a 1 in 11 chance of being a victim of a violent crime in Fruitvale. This is compared to a 1 in 30 chance of being a violent crime victim in California, or a 1 in 100 chance nationwide.
Let’s face it, Fruitvale is a dangerous place.
And kudos to people who want to clean up the neighborhood.
But, is Hasta Muerta’s approach to denying service to cops, the right way?
The worker-owned collective coffee shop believes that cops threaten the security of the neighborhood. In fact, their stance is well-known. They’ve got a big mural up that criticizes police shootings and the militarization of law enforcement. When the officer was denied service, the Oakland police officers union wrote a strongly worded letter to the owners complaining about the unwritten policy.
I mean, why shouldn’t officers who patrol in the neighborhood want to support locally owned businesses? The police can just move up the street to Peet’s or Starbuck’s rather than support Hasta Muerta.
Hasta Muerta has since doubled down on its insistence that the popo stay away.
Posting on social media:
“We know in our experience working on campaigns against police brutality that we are not alone saying that police presence compromises our feelings of physical & emotional safety,” Hasta Muerta Coffee posted on its Instagram page. “The facts are that poc [people of color], women and queer police are complicit in upholding the same law and order that routinely criminalizes and terrorizes black and brown and poor folks, especially youth, trans and houseless folks. For these reasons and so many more, we need the support of the actual community to keep this place safe, not police.”
OK, I get it. Hasta Muerta believes that the neighborhood should be self-policing. And that will probably lead to an outcome that is not uncommon in places like Chicago where the police tend to not go.
Hasta Muerta isn’t unique in their approach to denying service to people with whom they do not agree. Rodrigue’s Coffee shop at Fordham kicked out a group of college Republicans for wearing MAGA hats. Apparently wearing red hats with Trump’s political slogan violated the “safe space” policy.
And we’re all familiar with the story of the Seattle coffee shop owned by a gay man who kicked out a group of Christian pro-life activists. In a now viral video, the owner said he would “F*ck Christ in the ass”, and told the group that since he owned the joint and he was offended, he was going to kick them out. And he did.
All of this denial of service to people who don’t share your beliefs is perfectly fine in my book. I believe business owners ought to be able to choose who they want as customers. And I believe that potential customers should know something about the business owners. If they don’t share your beliefs, and if there are alternatives, don’t patronize them.
The Christian baker or florist or photographer or wedding venue won’t do your gay (or polygamist) wedding? Use someone else! Don’t use the power of the State to shut down the business.
The next time I am in the Bay Area, I won’t go to Hasta Muerta. I’d rather patronize someone who appreciates the role of public safety in a neighborhood that’s not so nice.
Given that Fruitvale is such a dangerous place, who will Hasta Muerta call when they are robbed, or their tires are slashed, or their mural is vandalized? Of course they’ll call the police. I just wonder if they will serve them coffee.