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.
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.