Oakland Cafe That Won’t Serve Police Draws Protests

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Hasta Muerte coffee shop in Oakland has attracted protesters who disagree with the owners' decision to not serve police officers at the cafe. (Devin Katayama/KQED)

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A coffee shop in Oakland is stirring controversy with its policy of "asking police to leave for the physical and emotional safety" of its customers and staff.

The owners of Hasta Muerte Coffee in the city's Fruitvale neighborhood posted their policy regarding police officers on Instagram in mid-February. The message first drew online protests, then became the target of demonstrations by Trump supporters on Sunday.

Protesters carried American flags and chanted slogans like, “Blue Lives Matter,” according to the East Bay Times. That slogan is often used to counter the Black Lives Matter movement against police abuse of black and brown people. Counter-protesters supporting the cafe turned up with signs and shouted, “Let’s go Oakland!”

Protest organizer Lindsay Grathwohl, 39, of San Lorenzo told KTVU, "We support police officers, and we think a boycott isn't cool."

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Hasta Muerte did not return a phone call seeking comment. East Bay Express staff writer Janelle Bitker, who has written about the cafe, told KQED's podcast The Bay that the policy applied to armed police officers in uniform -- not someone who was off duty (the East Bay Times also reported that the policy applied to officers in uniform).

Hasta Muerte (which means "until death") is worker-owned and includes a self-described radical bookstore and a community events space.

The coffee shop posted on Instagram that an employee had asked an Oakland police officer to leave the cafe on Feb. 16. “We have a policy of asking police to leave for the physical and emotional safety of our customers and ourselves,” the post read.

A March 21 screenshot of Hasta Muerte Coffee's Instagram post on serving police customers. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

“We know in our experience working on campaigns against police brutality that we are not alone saying that police presence compromises our feeling of physical & emotional safety,” the statement read. " ... we need the support of the actual community to keep this place safe, not police."

After that, customers lined up to show their support.

But as word got out about their policy, Hasta Muerte’s Yelp page was flooded with negative reviews. A notice now on the page informs people:

A screenshot of Hasta Muerte Coffee's Yelp page on March 20, 2018. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

The Oakland Police Officers' Association told KGO that it had reached out to the coffee shop to start a dialogue, and the Oakland Police Department said it had, too. The association didn't immediately respond to KQED's requests for comment; a police department spokeswoman said they wouldn't have any comment beyond what was posted in a March 8 tweet.

The cafe’s owners have been guarded with their identities, with three of the owners declining to give their their names for an interview, according to the East Bay Express, which identified them as Latinx. When Hasta Muerte opened in November 2017, owner-worker Matt Gereghty said they wanted to add fuel to the flame of resistance.

“What trends can history teach us about making it through the present moment and times to come?” Gereghty said.