Why This Oakland Coffee Shop Refuses to Serve Cops

Since local news caught wind of Hasta Muerte's policy, the cafe’s Yelp page has been locked and its Facebook page is offline.

Mar 9 2018, 10:49pm

Photo via Flickr user Thomas Hawk

On the website for Hasta Muerte Coffee, the Oakland, Calif. cafe’s mission statement is more or less written as a math equation: “Coffee x Community x Solidarity.” But the unseen part of that equation is “minus cops,” and you don’t have to be an algebra professor to understand that this all equals foreseeable outrage.

The minority-owned, minority-staffed coffee shop has found itself on the wrong side of local news coverage after an employee told a uniformed police officer that they’d appreciate if he left the premises and no, they wouldn’t sell him a cup of coffee. According to NBC Bay Area, the Oakland Police Officers’ Association sent the shop a letter and hoped to “open a dialogue” with Hasta Muerte’s owners, but the shop is remaining tight-lipped, allowing the media, Instagram and its “Cop Kicka” and “Deport the Border Patrol” t-shirts to deliver its message.

In late February, Hasta Muerte posted a photo of the words “Habla con tus vecinxs, no con la policia”—which translates to, “talk to your neighbors, not the police”—along with an explanation of its no-cops policy. “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,” it wrote. “[Oakland Police Department’s] recent attempts to enlist officers of color and its short term touting of fewer officer involved shootings does not reverse or mend its history of corruption, mismanagement, and scandal, nor a legacy of blatant repression.”

Hasta Muerte said that it wanted to rely on the community that surrounds the shop—Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood—to ensure its safety, not on the officers of the OPD. “We want to put this out to our communities now, in case we end up facing backlash because as we know OPD, unlike the community, has tons of resources, many of which are poured into maintaining smooth public relations to uphold power,” it explained. “It will be no surprise if some of those resources are steered toward discrediting us for not inviting them in as part of the community.”

So far, the backlash appears to have been limited to a not-unexpected amount of online criticism. The cafe’s Yelp page is currently locked and its Facebook page is offline, which means that angry commenters have had to turn to Google Questions to write “Shame on you.” And everyone who’s complaining on the Oakland Police Officers’ Association Facebook page about it will be disappointed to know that, sorry, but Hasta Muerte is actually totally within its legal rights to do this. (The dude who wants the OPD to file a discrimination lawsuit is going to be twice as upset.)

"It's not against the law to refuse to serve police officers, or any other kind of occupational category," David Sklansky, a Stanford University law professor and co-director of Stanford's Criminal Justice Center, previously told VICE. "It's like saying, 'Bus drivers are not welcome here,' or, "Trash collectors are not welcome.' It's a dumb and insulting thing to do to any group of workers, but it's not illegal."

Refusing to serve police officers isn’t new, but usually the individuals taking a stand are employees of a larger chain restaurant—and they’re often swiftly relieved of their jobs afterward. Workers have been fired for turning down cops at both a Little Caesar’s and a Taco Bell in Alabama, at a Whataburger and a McDonald’s in Texas, and at a Noodles & Company in Virginia, among countless other, less-reported examples. Other chains (Dunkin Donuts comes to mind) have issued apologies after their own workers told unformed officers to beat it. What’s different about Hasta Muerte is that it’s the shop’s unofficial policy, for all employees and for all officers.

“We know from experience that the negative responses will come down heavily on the business that discriminates against police officers,” pro-law enforcement website PoliceOne wrote, in response to restaurant employees refusing to serve officers. “Once the controversy begins to brew, realize that time and your good citizens are on your side.”

But in politically charged Oakland, there’s a good chance that quite a few citizens might be lining up for Hasta Muerte coffee.