The following was taken from a Facebook Live on March 22 by Brian Dunn, on the Cochran Firm’s official Facebook page.
So there’s this cafe in Oakland named “Hasta Muerte Coffee”. Oakland, as you well know, is an urban community in Northern California. It has had a long history of being one of the more high crime areas within California. There were a lot of issues in Oakland that kind of were groundbreaking in the 80’s and 90’s when the drugs, that we now know and take were granted, were just arriving on the scene. A lot of the epicenter of violence originated out of Oakland. Some of the most stark examples of community relations between law enforcement and the community gone wrong have come out of Oakland.
Why do I bring it up? Because this particular coffee shop has literally refused through store policy to serve law enforcement officers at this coffee shop. The entire situation seems to have manifested itself when a police sergeant went in for a cup of coffee, just like anyone else, presumably in his uniform, and he was not served, and he was asked to leave. Is this discrimination? Yes. Is it the kind of discrimination that it’s illegal? No. Why? Because it’s not based on a race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or the kinds of protected classes that our legal system protects. It’s simply based on the person’s profession. What makes this story even more interesting is the reason that the owners of the coffee shop gave for their decision, quote, “The owner said that the shop needs the support of the community, not the police to keep their business safe.”
In terms of addressing the many issues that are raised by this particular phenomenon, one of the things that strikes me is that there is a belief among the owners of this shop that the community’s interest and the interest of law enforcement cannot coexist. It’s either that you’re going to be supported by the community or you’re going to be supported by the police; and not both. What kind of wedge has been drawn so that the energy is to literally exclude law enforcement outright from the simple dignity of a cup of coffee, or the simply camaraderie of joining us? “We don’t want you here because of what you do and we don’t need police here because we would rather have the support of the community.” The support of the community, obviously that’s amorphous.
More interesting is, what type of precedent does this set? If you could just flip the switch, for example, and if you could imagine that there were particular zip code, I’m not sure what zip code this coffee shop is in, but suppose the Oakland Police Department got a call for a burglary in that zip code and they just didn’t go. Someone’s calling 9-1-1. Their house has been burglarized. They have very expensive items that are missing. Someone’s car got stolen. The kinds of every day call of service that the police get. They call and the police simply don’t come. I’m not saying don’t come late. I’m not saying don’t show up within two hours or three hours. I’m saying that the 9-1-1 operator says, “I’m sorry. We will not be sending the police. No one’s coming because your neighborhood is not safe or because we heard that your neighborhood would rather be represented by the community than law enforcement so our officers don’t feel safe there.”
That type of precedent obviously would create a level of mistrust, a level of tension, a level of probably even violence that’s far greater than any particular instance of misconduct would engender. What do I mean when I say that? If that happens, if all of the sudden law enforcement took this attitude? What would happen would happen is the members of that community would then try to take it to a situation in which legal actions would be brought. It would almost invariably involved some type of an analysis of the equal protection of laws as it relates to their response to some communities versus other communities. Would it really make the community safer, is my point. At the end of the day, if we look at things in terms of energy, every action invites a certain reaction. If we have a coffee shop or if we have a business establishment that is saying that they’re not going to open their doors to members of the community who are in the field of law enforcement, law enforcement is almost invariably going to respond in some way. There is going to be some reaction.
The Oakland Police Department’s press release in response to this said, “The Oakland Police Department respects business’ owners right to serve anyone they choose. OPD, along with other community members, are reaching out to the business to have constructive dialogue in our efforts to unite our community.” That’s a politically correct response, but the reality is, that’s not what those officers are thinking. That is not what the rank and file officers are thinking when they get this notice that one of their brother officers was denied service. The type of energy that that’s going to foster is going to invariably draw a wedge. Any time you get a press release, that’s something that’s something that’s written by somebody in their Media Relations department. The response of the average officer will often be different.
If you talk to anyone who spent any serious amount of time on the streets in an urban environment as a cop, what they will tell you is the only way to truly protect a neighborhood is if the police and the members of the neighborhood work together. The only way that they are able to solve many crimes within some of the hardest hit communities, is by gaining the trust of all members of the community, such as the clergy, gang members, business leaders, et cetera.
These are the kinds of individuals that witness crimes. When law enforcement is unable to communicate with them for whatever reason, is the community safer? Now, I understand what probably motivated this. It could have been several acts of police brutality. It could have been a history of discrimination, racial discrimination, which I’m not going to deny exists. It could have been a specific instance. It could have been any enumerable number of homicides that have happened at the hands of police in that neighborhood. At the same time, there is still always going to be a need in an urban environment for there to be an open dialogue of communication between law enforcement and members of the community.
The thing that I think we should be thinking about when we see something like this is what is the energy that is associated with it? An energy of divisiveness will always have a similar reaction. When you’re talking about law enforcement, yes, I have been witness to probably more acts of police misconduct than the average person will see in three lifetimes. At the same time, I have also seen police do things within communities that have genuinely solved crimes, that have genuinely made the community safer, and that have genuinely honored the badge. That type of discretionary police practices, those are the types of things we want to encourage. It is very easy for us to say, “Well, because of this and because of the historical problem, we are going to close the door on this.” I can tell you that that is one way of doing this, but it will always lead to even more problems if there is the energy of divisiveness behind it.
If you are specifically saying that you can’t sit down at the table with me, I mean, that’s reminiscent of something that has happened for many years in the past in this country; lunch counters, restrooms, restaurants. If you’re saying that I can’t sit down with you, you’re not respecting my basic humanity as a person. Whether I take action and whether I don’t, you’re setting up a wedge between the human family. That is not something that I think in the long run could ever result in anything positive.