Power Dynamics Over Coffee

Evan Manvel

First off – one cop being asked to leave one coffee shop is no big deal. The manufactured controversy over a single interaction is what unfortunately passes as news these days. As far as the blogger who created the story – where will cops ever get their coffee? Well, only about 45,000 other places in Portland. As we’ve heard, police officers are still able to get coffee, and business at the Red and Black Café is booming. However, despite the non-story story, there are interesting issues that get lost amidst soundbite spats.

When I was in college, I joined several campus groups. One was the Feminist Alliance – a group dedicated to protecting and enhancing the rights of women, and creating safe space to talk about gender and power issues. The group met in the Women’s Center, and was open to both men and women. I was one of two men to attend, along with a couple dozen women. At my second meeting, someone made a statement along the lines of “Men are assholes.” It brought a lot of laughter, a few looks, and a few kind words directed at me. A friend apologized to me afterward.

While my intentions were good, I was interfering with the group. I was making it a less safe space for women to openly express and work out their feelings. I was part of the privileged – males, the group in power – and I hindered the work. In other spaces and on other projects, we found ways to work together productively to fight sexism. But for this group to be effective at what it wanted to do, it was valuable for women to have space free of members of the group in power. I stopped attending those meetings.

Back to the Red and Black. The Red and Black Café wants to “provide a community space that is safe and welcoming to all." They’re working to create a space safe for community members, as well as people and groups who may organize to challenge traditional authority structures. They work to serve as “an example of ethical, non-hierarchical business.”

What, then, to do when someone comes in who makes the core clientele feel less safe – in this case, a police officer in uniform? By serving everyone, including those who make some regular patrons feel less welcome, the cafe might fail in its aspirational (perhaps overly broad) mission.

As a society, we sanction giving police officers power over others. While that provides us a lot of benefits, it can make many people feel less safe, especially those in the less powerful parts of society. Officers not only have guns, but legal authority, and a great deal of institutional and psychological power. Most police work hard and face incredible challenges, and deserve our thanks for a job well done. But officers still have more power than others, which runs counter to the types of communities some are trying to create.

To his credit, Officer Crooker seemed to be polite and professional, and it was good of him to support businesses in his area. But he clearly failed to understand why he was asked to leave. On KGW, he said “For him to ask me to leave based on the color of the uniform I am wearing… it sort of hearkens to the days of segregation.”

As the Red and Black’s owners explained, he was asked to leave because of the power of his uniform – a uniform he could easily change, unlike the color of his skin. The psychological effect of police uniforms has been extensively studied, with people both trusting and obeying those in uniform more. At times, police use different colors to have different psychological effects (black uniforms instill fear, for example). Uniforms aren't exactly in line with the Cafe's values about anarchy and non-hierarchy.

The idea that this situation was anything like segregation – the omnipresent, systematic abuse and devaluation of minorities as people using political institutions, intimidation and force – is, to put it kindly, incorrect. As I hear it, the Red and Black workers are concerned about the effect uniformed police officers have on their community space, given the history of some officers using or abusing power. Implying that the powerful are being somehow being oppressed by the less powerful - by politely being asked to leave - is wrong.

What the Red and Black and the Feminist Alliance both have is an appreciation of power dynamics. Having a space free of those who have institutionalized power is valuable. Perhaps the tactics and sound bites aren’t the right ones, but the intent is to work hard to empower people and community.

As we strive to reach our common goals of safety and equality, those of us who have power – be it white men or police officers – have the responsibility to listen closely to those with less power. And with continued work and dialogue – in the right places, and the right times - we can create a society we’re proud to live in.

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      When I read news, I try to put things in perspective to see if there's a true problem. Officers are not systemically or often refused service. In fact, it seems they're refused service at only one coffee shop.

      Contrast that to segregation, which is what the police officer did.

      Now, after answering: is this alleged problem of significant scale? No.

      We can then look at: what's going on with this singular instance, and is there something wrong or right? Is this discrimination?

      There's a long history of looking at what private businesses can do, and the Supreme Court has built a theory of suspect classes. My understanding is police officers are not a suspect class - in part, because they have a proven record of having power to affect the political process. And they don't have an immutable trait.

      People get asked to leave private businesses all the time if they're not wearing clothes that fit with the business. It's not covered as news, in part because the people asked to leave are less powerful (i.e. the homeless, those without as much money, etc.)

      The decision was about the uniform, not about the person in it.

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      Seems to me like the customers have voted - in support of the Red and Black's actions. So a uniform-free space is the sort of space many in the Cafe's community want and feel more comfortable in. Not everyone is bothered by uniforms, of course.

      I didn't say that workers of the Red and Black are specifically disempowered - did I imply that? Or equate the workers with poor, Black, homeless, etc.? Huh? Do you get that from my article?

      The Red and Black's owners have explained many customers feel unsafe around uniformed officers, from their past experiences.

      From the Willamette Week:

      Langley said many of his customers are homeless and marginalized by the police. “We’re gonna value the people that have been victims of police violence. Some of them have talked about having their belongings being taken away or sprayed with water”

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        "...it can make many people feel less safe, especially those in the less powerful parts of society."

        I assumed your words were implying actually that.

        Whether they are or they aren't disenfranchised "enough" to be validated, the behavior was probably the least effective way to stick it to the man I've ever heard of. It reduced their cause to the appearance of muckracking.

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        use the argument put forth so popularly on this board ... just because a majority of arizonans are in favor of the new anti illegal alien laws and a majority of people were in favor of Jim Crow laws and before that salvery doesn't make it right! The hypocrisy is dumbfounding and this proves my personal belief that the most intolerant people in this country are the people who demand the tolerance of others

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      I agree with Paul the coffee shop owner was showing exactly the same intolerance of others (or their uniforms) that she claims to be trying to foster through her exclusionary business practices. The business owner is not only a hypocrite of the worst kind (decrimination against anyone for any reason) she is also laughably and tragically just plain wrong. How can we foster the spirit of community policing and trust ben the citizens of Portland and law enforcement when there are business ownwers practicing these types of illegal exclusionary practices sorry Evan it doesn't matter if it's 1 person or 1 million people wrong is always wrong

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    The reporting has it that Red and Black sold the cop a cup of coffee, and then asked him to leave. That's dishonest. If R&B sells the coffee, then it owes that customer the same consideration as other customers, whatever the clothing or job.

    Had R&B posted a sign saying "No police served" or had refused service at the counter, then fine. The action would be unfeeling, but not dishonest. Instead, they sold the coffee under false pretenses.

    Secondly, a cop on the beat may be a uniformed agent of state power, but he or she is also a worker, a proletarian in Marxist terms. That cop draws a paycheck and isn't an owner of the processes that produce that check.

    Is it possible possible to treat all workers as brothers and sisters, as anarchists believe should be done, while struggling against the agencies of state power and capital that employ them? I think it is.

    We live in a capitalist economy-society-state. All of us compromise with that reality in order to survive, however strong our ideals.

    Those compromises apply to Red and Black, which is functioning as a tax-paying small business. So to order a brother worker to leave the premises because he works for an agency of state power is an unprincipled act.

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      As I read it, it seemed one worker sold the cup of coffee, and a second worker-owner asked the officer to leave (and stated he hadn't seen him before the coffee was sold, or would have refused him service up front).

      That is, it seems that the intent is to not serve officers in uniform, and the first worker was unaware of that intent. It happens sometimes in restaurants, where one worker does one thing, and a second person overrules or clarifies. It doesn't mean anything other than poor communication.

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        If it was an internal miscommunication, wouldn't it have been more honest to let this cop drink his coffee in piece, rather than penalizing him for a problem within the R&B community. It seems to me that R&B is failing to take responsibility for their own failures to communicate (with a nod to Cool Hand Luke.)

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      There is just about nothing purely capitalist about our economy and there hasn't been for over 100 years if even then which is a huge part of our problems today

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      Excellent,excellent comment. I wish I could give this 10 likes.

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      It's part of the institutional disconnect with anarchists -- until or unless anarchy takes hold, they get all the benefits of a society built on a non-anarchical structure and social contract.

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      About "the topic" and a big deal - I think I was trying to say that asking one customer to leave isn't a big deal, while there are some interesting things going on. I think people have made a big deal about the first, without talking in depth about the second. That is, the power in this topic is symbolism, rather than a specific serious harm or pattern of harm, and for the blogger who created this story to title her story "Where's a Police Officer to Get a Cup of Coffee" seemed, well, to make a mountain out of a mole bump.

      Second, I think you're right - that I've used the word "safety" broadly, perhaps too broadly, to include both "welcoming and safe." The perceived lack of safety can come from a lot of things, not just the feeling that someone's about to physically hurt you. A sense of safety can be hard to come by for some, especially the homeless. And yes, there are also some patrons who just don't like police.

      Finally, the Feminist Alliance certainly needed more clarity on its purpose and its aims. And yes, I'm still a proud feminist.

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      Feminism is the greatest fraud ever committed against women

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      OK Avery is they can ask a police officer to leave ... not based upon his skin color but the color of his uniform can that same coffee shop tell gays to leave ...or str8 people to leave? Like the officer in street clothes no one can tell if he is or if he isn't (unlike skin color which is not so easily hidden) where do you draw the line? Why isn't the owners exclusion of the cop not a hate crime? Her decision to launch him had nothing to do with who he was or any inappropiate conduct he engaged in? Do you know what this sounds like ? It sounds like a libertarian argument much like the answer given by Rand Paul that everyone feigned such disbelief over... some people here are saying "well it's her business she should be able to serve or not serve anyone she wants without anyone telling her different because she owns the business ... I realize the two examples can't be overlayed onto eachother and exact a perfect fit ...but its too close for my BS detectors... store owner was wrong

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        Interesting thought viz being penalized for outward appearances.

        In essence what the R & B has done is to penalized for nonconformism. A bit ironic, no?

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        You obviously have no clue what a bias crime (i.e. "hate crime") is an isn't.

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          have you ever added an intelligent thought to any thread that didn't involve name calling or an attempt to put down someone else? Why don't you tell us what you think once in a while Mitchell instead of always taking a incoherent cheap shot at someone else? I understand better than you do what a bias "crime" is Mitchell? How did you make out on that Zogby poll anyway? lol

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            Yes I have added intelligent thought to threads on numerous topics which didn't involve name calling. BTW, my stating that you obviously have no clue what a bias crime is, as evidenced by your misapplication of it in your rhetorical question isn't "name calling.

            I have no idea what "Zogby poll" you are even referring to much less how I "made out in it".

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    I have a few things to say. First, I am pretty sure the red and black workers are the owners, that is part of their non-hierarchical thing.

    I doubt this is a policy. It seemed to me that the policeman was asked to leave not as part of any political statement, but because he was making people uncomfortable. When someone is asked to leave a movie because their baby is making too much noise, or when a dress code is enforced at a nightclub or something, no one claims it is discrimination against mothers or people who don't own suits. It is accepted that businesses will do what they need in order to ensure the quality of their patron's experience.

    Lots of people feel uncomfortable around police. I do. Guns make me nervous for one thing. I have a few other fairly visceral and potentially illogical points of discomfort.

    I assume that this is a pretty common phenomena. I assume that it might be even more common amongst anarchists, given their historic unpopularity with hierarchical authority structures.

    Does the request for the cop to leave have to mean something broad like that the worker meant that police are bad people who should be denied service by all ethical anarchists? Is there any legitimate situation where a customer should be asked to leave because of patron discomfort?

    I think it is more of a matter of that specific situation, where the conditions of the presence of one individual for whatever reason was inappropriate. And on that basis, the worker did what they felt they should.

    If it was a bum that got kicked out of a Starbucks for mumbling and ranting and making people uncomfortable, no one would think twice. Sometimes, a gun and a uniform make people a lot more uncomfortable than weird Jerry.

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      I've even developed a fondness for the weird Jerry in my neck of the woods.

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      It is accepted that businesses will do what they need in order to ensure the quality of their patron's experience.

      The moment they accept his money for the coffee, what did he become? A patron.

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      Juice: the comments from the Red and Black owners that I've seen from several reports do, in fact, suggest that it's the fact that he's a cop in uniform -- it's the uniform that gets them because they're anti-police (one said something about not needing police in an anarchical society)

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      Actually, I think progressives who believe in basic fairness would think twice about the "Jerry" scenario. A Washington County (Java Nation) coffee shop I visit regularly hosts a fellow who mumbles and "rants" to himself--and he's welcome there. If I'd discovered they'd kicked him out for mumbling/ranting, I'd be deeply disappointed in the owners.

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        Yes, I see him every time I'm in there, and I'm proud of the owners for giving him access to their space. Sometimes (today) he's lucid enough to acknowledge people -- we exchanged nods and smiles this morning. Other times he's engaged in quiet, frantic self-arguments (and apparently losing).

        In case you needed another reason to patronize Java Nation -- on Canyon Road near Best Teriyaki. ;-)

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      There is a big difference between a crying baby creating a problem for other movie goers and the 'feelings" some small minded people have over the mere presence of a cop who is not going table to table or causing any sort of nusience and who is asked to leave because his presence was upsetting people. Black people at the lunch counter in a restaurant used to make people feel uneasy without engaging in any behavior that distracted or impacted other people's ability to enjoy the space they are in... owner is wrong

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      According to the news report the entire thing was kicked off by a patron thanking the officer, which apparently caught the attention of the co-owner who then kicked the cop out.

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    Emo anarchist baristas. Self-parody writ-large.

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    unbelievable how many lefties think a cop was being discriminated against and that it was wrong of B&R mgmt to want to preserve a space that felt safe to their clientele. i'm reading opinions that could be from NWRepublican from people i expected better from.

    the 1st Amendment guarantees the right of free assembly. that right means nothing if the people are not free to exclude official representatives of the government. they didn't kick him out because he was a white male; they kicked out his badge, his uniform & gun - and they were damn polite about it.

    i congratulate the B&R for having the courage to stay true to their ethos. i'm not a fan of anarachy (good luck, human race), but i'm a fan of sticking to your beliefs -- especially in the face of the ridicule and abuse they've taken as a result.

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      You've apparently built this comment on an entirely nonexistent premise. Just because an entity has a "right" to do something, doesn't mean the exercise of it is appropriate in this context. Further, the right to free assembly in no way protects that same entity from criticism when they do something such as this--which is a horrible PR move at best.

      Kicking a cop out of the shop simply because he's a cop (and not doing anything improper or untoward) is no different than kicking a homeless person off the sidewalk because they're making the shoppers with money feel uncomfortable.

      The idea that somehow actually sticking to the progressive values of inclusiveness and basic fairness on this topic is the providence of NWRepublican is offensive and silly.

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        Agreed. These clowns have the right to ask the cop to leave form a purely legal stand-point. But I want nothing to do with such ignorant fools, nor do wish any association with them literally, or in the political/idealogical label sense either.

        T.A. why not refuse service for Iraqi vets like your son while because of some bad acts of some of our military during the occupation while we're at it?

        Would these jerks have the legal right to tell veterans to GTFO? Of course.

        Would you want to associate yourself with that position?

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          (awesome. wrote my reply & hit post - and then i was asked to login. so byebye reply. try again)

          Mitchell, if my kid went into the R&B in uniform, and then they asked him to leave, i'd fully support them. absolutely. it's their place, and they aren't asking him to leave because of "race, creed or skin color" - they are asking him to leave because of what he represents: the power of the state to oppress, harass and kill. i am very uncomfortable with him in uniform; he knows i'm not happy that he joined the NG and went to Iraq. that isn't what i wanted to see him do with his life. so yea, i support their right to ask him to leave when in uniform.

          it's not the "bad acts" of some they object to; it's the whole f-ing power structure that legitimizes oppression and the use of force. this isn't anti-Humphreys or anything so narrow; this is anti-state monopoly on force. of course they don't want armed & uniformed representatives of that power structure in the cafe, and they are right to demand the freedom from the presence of that reminder of force & power.

          and i wonder why calling them "jerks" and "clowns" is ok? because you disagree with them? that makes name-calling ok? why? the R&B, otoh, has been civil and restrained despite the abuse they've taken. i totally stand with them.

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        I agree with Carla ..it's seriously hypocritical we don't solve the divisiness in our society by sanctioning it just because the people involved are self proclaimed anarchists... I think the more those two parties are able to understand and accept the other the better off all of us will be

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    Nice, let's just paint all police officers with the same brush. That doesn't resonate of bigotry at all?<note sarcasm="" here=""> The level of ignorance shown by R&B is just another example of the far extreme left crying about unfair the world is to them and how oppressed they are. Making your statement by denying service to a public servant is a lot like kicking your cat because your dog chewed up your shoe. The police officers put their lives in danger every day, with very little appreciation, and not the best pay. Why is it the only people who seem to be crying about police brutality and mistreatment have a rap sheet a mile long, or they hang out with those who do. What gets me the most is that if R&B were to be the victim of a crime they would most certainly call those same police that they are so ‘fearful’ of. Last time I checked, that was called hypocrisy.

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    While I think that Langley's actions weren't the best, I can understand where he was coming from.

    First of all, I have been in situations where the presence of the police made the situation more dangerous. I also understand not wanting someone with a gun in one's business.

    On the other hand, I wonder if this was a pre-existing policy of the R & B, or was this something that Langley made up on the spot.

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    Much as I'd never set foot in this den of misguided miscreants and disagree with their actions, I'm with the Red & Black on this one. It's a private establishment and I respect their right to serve or not serve whomever they wish. Ultimately the most powerful votes we cast involve our hard earned dollars. If we truly are a democratic society for the people by the people then problem solved.

    Me, I support cops even though there are some bad seeds as there are in every occupation. A rational individual merely needs to attempt to walk in their shoes for a moment to acquire at least a little empathy. Easy to sit back and armchair quarterback but I'm quite certain most cops do better than I could dealing with split-second, life-threatening situations. Add constant public scrutiny, guilty til proven innocent and low pay to the mix and what person in his/her right mind would want the job? Too late to not go off on a rant here. I'll conclude by saying that most of the cops I know are decent, hard working folks with families who constantly worry about their safety. The current progressive set often seems to be far more concerned with the rights of criminals than they do with the rights of law abiding citizens or law enforcement officers. I hereby advise all Multnomah County public safety officers to quit their jobs and move to a municipality where they are generally appreciated by the local citizenry. Let the gang bangers, bums and assorted assembled criminals rule your old constituents and don't look back.

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    People are allowed to be as***les, we're also allowed to point and laugh at them. The fact that behavior is legal doesn't make it good behavior or reasonable behavior.

    The guy denied coffee maybe the person giving one of them CPR after a truck hits their bicycle or may be the guy cuffing them up for smashing a window. Somebody will appreciate either action. Is a cup of coffee a big deal? Nah. Does the owner/s need to be pointed at and laughed at widely. Sure.

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    I think it would have been a lot of fun to see how they handled an African-American police officer.

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