Hasta Muerte Coffee in Oakland, California, is drawing national attention for its policy to refuse service to police officers, according to NBC Bay Area. On February 16, the shop denied coffee to a uniformed Oakland sergeant. Afterward, the Oakland Police Officers Association sent a letter to Hasta Muerte.
Located on Fruitvale Avenue, Hasta Muerte is a co-op coffee shop that “hope[s] to provide a warm and inclusive community.” The shop’s Instagram cites several reasons for their decision to deny service to police, including the need to maintain the physical and emotional safety of patrons and employees. It also talks about police brutality and marginalized communities.
The Department of Justice’s federal law that allows businesses to refuse service is Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law makes it illegal for businesses to make their decisions based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Police officers, by definition, do not fall under any of these categories.
In a similar story, Little Caesars in Sumiton, Alabama, fired two employees last February for refusing to serve a police officer. According to Fox News, Little Caesars did this because they are “proud to serve those who tirelessly serve us.” Also, in October 2017, Fox News reports that a Whataburger fired an employee for refusing to serve two officers.
Last Friday February 16th a police (OPD) entered our shop and was told by one of our worker-owners that “we have a policy of asking police to leave for the physical and emotional safety of our customers and ourselves.” Since then, cop supporters are trying to publicly shame us online with low reviews because this particular police visitor was Latino. He broadcasted to his network that he was “refused service” at a local business and now the rumblings are spreading. 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. There are those that do not share that sentiment – be it because they have a friend or relative who is a police, because they are white or have adopted the privileges whiteness affords, because they are home- or business- owning, or whatever the particular case may be. If they want to make claims about police being part of the community, or claims that race trumps the badge & gun when it comes to police, they must accept that the burden of proof for such a claim is on them. OPDs 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. The facts are that poc, 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. Especially in an area faced by drug sales and abuse, homelessness, and toxic masculinity as we see here on this block. 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 will be no surprise if some of those resources are steered toward discrediting us for not inviting them in as part of the community.
Luckily for the employee at Hasta Muerte, the company is behind his or her decision to deny service to law enforcement. In the meantime, the Oakland Police wait to hear a response from their letter. At this moment, the coffee shop has not responded, and the outcome is uncertain.
The legality of businesses refusing service can be controversial. Because police officers do not fall under a group according to “race, color, religion or national origin,” companies are left to make their own decisions about how to handle employees who refuse to serve police officers.
Another group that is not explicitly protected under Title II of the Civil Rights Act is the LGBTQ community. Each state handles the issue differently. In Mississippi, for example, government employees and private businesses can cite their religious beliefs to deny service to LGBTQ people. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Supreme Court is not intervening.