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Where Does a Police Officer Go For a Cup of Coffee? – Red and Black cafe . . .

My daughter and I were looking forward to a nice lunch at the Red and Black a vegan cafe in southeast Portland, two days before she was to return to school in Germany. Having a vegetarian daughter makes for great eating adventures. I had heard about the southeast Portland establishment as it was the opening scene in the book Imaginary Jesus, written by Matt Mikalatos, whom I am writing a story about for the Oregonian newspaper (
We ordered, we got our food and spoke of life and love and God and how things are going and how interesting the interior of this place is. I so wanted one of our last outings together before she was to return to Germany to be memorable.

Then, I looked outside the window and saw a police officer and hoped I wasn’t illegally parked. I had recently seen cars being towed from the local outdoor food carts on 12th and Hawthorne. But, the police officer was not looking to give out tickets, but instead was looking for a cup of coffee while working the streets, so he thought he would try the Red and bback.

When he walks in, I say to him that I am glad he did not give me a parking ticket, and he chuckled.

With all the recent disturbing stories regarding the police in Portland, I thought I would try to show my support of the police by just being friendly.

After he got his coffee and was on his way out, my daughter and I, who  were sitting near the door, addressed the police officer again, just to continue our dialogue. I opened the conversation by asking if he comes here a lot, and he said that he had never been there before.

Then I told him that I appreciate the work they do as Portland Police Officers, and I noted that it must be hard with the recent shootings and negative reaction of the public. He was humble, and said that indeed Portland is an interesting place to work; he said it is very hard and trying at times as he deals with murderers and gang members and drug addicts on  a regular basis. People hear about the unfortunate police shootings, but rarely do they hear about the day in and day out reality of Police putting their lives on the line and saving people.

As I was just starting to tell him how I agreed with him, and had a specific example — our friend who lived in North Portland, a 14 year old Sudan-refugee boy, who was shot at by gang members in North Portland and then called Portland Police  who saved him — one of the owners of the cafe came over to us; I figured he was just going to say hello, but instead, what came out of his mouth shocked me.

He looked directly at the police officer, and said to him, “I don’t feel comfortable with you here, I would like you to leave.”

I am baffled. Here is this human being, who happens to be a police officer, who paid good money for a cup of coffee, talking to my daughter and me, who also paid good money for their (frankly, not very tasteful food), and we witness what is discrimination based upon what someone is wearing and the job he has. And the humiliation of an individual person. This in a place that states on its website that it is: “safe and welcome” for all.

As the policeman quietly left, I asked the co-owner what the problem is and he says that he does not feel safe around the Police and that they shoot people. I tell him I am confused by his response to a police officer who is merely trying to get a cup of coffee, and that I know that there have been some unfortunate situations recently involving the Police, but that overall they are here protecting our community day in and day out, and you have to look at all sides of culture. I wondered if he has visited countries where there is no legitimate police force and where there is indeed lawlessness running the town or country. He had no reaction to my question.

And then, I asked him whom he would call if someone came in to rob his establishment, and he said he would call his friends in a community — and that is when I knew we were getting nowhere. I told my daughter we needed to leave and she agreed. She also could not believe what was happening.

Later, I tracked down the police officer to give him my business card, and to tell him how I was sad to see what  happened to him,  and I asked him to call me. I wondered if he has been treated like this before by other establishments in Portland or elsewhere. I told him that I wanted to write about this and that it disturbed me that this could happen. I live in the suburbs where police are very much respected in the community. The police officer told me that they are used to this general attitude from some people in Portland; and he also said he will always be kind to people no matter what.

I thought, wow, here this police officer is trying to protect the very people that hate him. The police officer said to me that part of the problem is education, that the public just does not know what they do all day long, that they put their lives on the line every single day, but what gets on the news is when a police shooting occurs due to someone who fled the scene or did not listen to orders.

Later, when  I spoke with the policeman in greater detail, he said: “I don’t think the public is aware that that is how it is and all you can do is put the best foot forward and be professional and kind. This person (at the cafe) has his personal opinion. Look at his surroundings. He surrounds himself only with people who think the same way. That person will never be treated poorly by me. It is a cultural thing. We are failing ourselves. The public does not know what we deal with every day. Just two days in a row I have dealt with murderers. You also have to understand that the police are unable to combat the info about the public perception of police because what we are allowed to share is confidential information.”

The police officer also said that only so much information gets to the public and that the public needs to be educated that they are on their side. “Every day, police go out there and risk their lives. There is someone out there doing something wrong and we need to be there for the community. Let us get the bad guys here, but it is not as simple; there are  many more factors in what we weigh in whether we want to act here.”

Then, the clincher — he offered to take me in his car for a day or an hour or for whatever time I had, to show me what he does all day long as a Portland Police Officer, if I wanted to write about that experience. I would like to take him up on his offer, but to be honest, I am afraid of what these police officers have to face during regular business hours on the streets of Portland.

And, the public rewards him with asking him to leave a coffee shop.

So, where’s a Portland Police Officer to get a cup of coffee?

Not at a certain “anarchist” (which happens to be vegan) cafe in southeast Portland.

My daughter and I were so distraught by this negative experience, about the way the café treated the Police –when they should be treated with gratitude and respect and honor —  that we went the next day looking for a café with class and dignity for all people, no matter what they are wearing.

We found the Palios Dessert & Espresso Bar in Ladd’s Addition, and we mentioned the situation we encountered at the Red and Black, and the man behind the counter at Palios said they treat all people equally there.

Okay, we found a place for the police to get a cup of coffee.  And us.

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Posted in Community Service, Culture, Gratitude, Justice, Life, Live the Questions, Refugees.

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345 Responses

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  1. HC says

    I have been a Paramedic in Portland for 13 years. I cannot tell how much I appreciate Portland Police. I have been punched, kicked,spit on,cursed at, I have had knifespulled on me and even had a fellow medic friend shot by a mentally I’ll person, all in the name helping. We do this work because of many reasons, civic pride,we believe in a greater cause, whatever. It makes me sad to see people react in such disrespectful ways, pushing their narrow minded views. Do they have a right to ask someone to leave ? Yes. Does that promote goodwill, a sense of community, what would a child think if they saw this happen ? Does every Portland Police officer go to work with the intention of wanting to shoot some one? Of course not. It is childish and stupid to even think that. I would like to ask and even challenge the man who asked the officer to leave to come to work with me for a week. To witness the challenge of violence, overdoses,assaults and death we deal with. Trust me it changes your out look on life forever.

  2. A. Citizen says

    “Here is guy, who happens to be a police officer, who paid good money for a cup of coffee, talking to my daughter and me, who paid good money for their food, and we witness what I believe is discrimination really based upon what someone is wearing and the job he has.”

    Discrimination happens all the time based on what someone is wearing and the job they have. I’ll give you an example: As an articulate white woman, you have nothing to fear from the police.

    Some of the rest of us don’t have it so lucky. Like me, a young man of color.

  3. JAL says

    Nevermind, it is the Red and Black Cafe. SHAME ON THEM.

  4. JAL says

    As a vegetarian, who eats at vegan establishments regularly, I really wish I knew what cafe this was – so I can make sure to NEVER patron that establishment. I say this as the child of a police officer who shot and kill a man in the line of duty. Shame on that man.

    And, Eli, I really wish stupidity was painful.

  5. LouAnn Edwards says

    Right on! I really believe God put you in a certain place to tell this story of “hate speech” by liberals who are so quick to tell you they are “open minded.” What a crock. Makes me glad I don’t live in SE Portland, but really, I’m dreaming of moving to a red state!!!

  6. Sally says

    “How about you and all your friends who think we don’t need police go spend one night in north portland on the street, then tell me that.”

    You say this because North Portland is the poor neighborhood (except where you suburban white folk have decided to plant yr little coffee shops and art space where you can feel safe at the expense of the folk who have lived in the neighborhood for years)? Because North Portland is where a large majority of black people live? I live in North Portland, have for over a decade, and yes, there are problems but most of those problems are due to poverty and the fact that ignorant ass liberal white folk like you all don’t give a rats ass about what happens to anyone other than you. You like the cops because they protect your cozy little lives, the lives that are built on the backs of poor people, people of color, sick people.
    I dont know what the red and black cafe is but I think Im going to look it up, because it’s about time people start standing up for themselves. You all can enjoy your lattes in ladds edition, maybe my son and his friends who work construction can build a nice little wall around you, you can keep your cops and your prayer flags and your sugar coated ideas about America. Forget the truth, stay ignorant because if your fragile little brain ever caught a glimpse of reality I fear you and your pathetic existence would crumble to the ground.
    I dont wear a mask but I respect those kids that do, I’ve seen enough reality to understand that cops are not my friends and aint gonna do shit to protect me.

    Eli, Doug, you kids keep up yr work.
    The rest of you, read a book (thanks for the suggestion, Eli. Have you read any Angela Davis, that sister has inspired me for a long time.) , visit a prison, talk to someone who has been down and out. I dare you.

  7. Becka says

    My husband is a portland police officer…..he’s never drawn his gun at anyone…he’s definitely not a murderer. Eli, you’re a moron and so is the person at the red black cafe. You people are lucky that there are police….when your so called “community” can’t back you up..who are you going to call for help? Before my husband was a police officer, he worked at a place on Alberta, he rides his bike to work, and eats frickin’ quinoa everyday….he’s a lot like the people who hate him. He’d help you with anything from getting someone dangerous away from you to helping you move your couch out of your house. Maybe we’ll come into your little cafe out of uniform. You’d never know the difference. Maybe we’ll tell our friends to also…. for being all “portland” you sure are a bunch of biggots. Are you part of the winners that keep doing pointless laughable protests? You guys look REALLY cool in your stupid masks. Great job. Really.

  8. Bill says

    Eli, you and people like you are the reason this country is ending up the way it is. Go right ahead and tell the cops to go away. I bet you don’t have the guts to say it openly, in public. You would be too afraid that the next time you needed a cop, there wouldn’t be one for you. Cops are people too, they have families and friends just like you and I do. They have the same right you and I have to go home every night safely. If a “person that broke the law” decides not to listen to the police officer, guess who gets to go home that night. The only thing I can say is take your hippie little behind and go fly a kite.

  9. James Chasse says

    Eli, you’re on the wrong blog…. but i like your perspective. People need to hear it.

    Bigots (not Biggot) hate people based on who they are; race, color, sexual orientation, how they spell etc. Those of us who fear the police do so because of how we have been treated by the police. That’s not bigotry, it’s enlightened self interest. Be glad you have not been enlightened.

    Respect is earned, not worn.

    Are a lot of minorities commenting on this blog?

  10. Keith Seckel says

    @Eli — I respect your opinions, but I think you missed the author’s point? Also, please see below re: uniforms.

    @Author/Nelly — I am an RN and personally find being in a hospital a very comforting experience. But I also understand that many *many* people are *very* uncomfortable in a hospital setting. And I do not currently work in a hospital setting…I do hospice work, so on the one hand many people have very complimentary things to say about what I do, but the majority of our society still has a real challenge dealing with death and dying.

    Re Uniforms — I see how some might find a police uniform intimidating, but I disagree that it is designed to be that way. I believe experiences are learned — just ask the mom of the child who freaks out when s/he sees an RN in scrubs. To the child, the scrubs uniform means “I’m going to get poked, and have to spend time away from my parents, and will be feeling poorly” — but no one would say that scrubs are designed to be intimidating…

  11. GD says

    I think we should buy gift certificates for that palce and give them to Patrol Officers.

  12. KB says

    Well put Jordan.
    Thank you for writing this article. Please consider publishing this in the Oregonian. I think the police community needs to know that many people support them and thank them for protecting all of us regardless of how many citizens treat them poorly.

  13. Paul says

    Eli: Get a clue.
    I’m pretty sure your paranoid rant is the dumbest thing I’ve heard in my life. The worst part is that in spite of your fear that the police are really enemies, you probably believe that no one should be able to own guns.

  14. Jebbie says

    I suppose if someone enters the Red & Black establishment wielding a baseball bat (or worse), threatening the customers and the owners, they will call Eli to rush right over over to “build community and create safe neighborhoods” by reasoning with the bat….rather than calling 911. Eli could possibly save the taxpayers money by “policing through peace” …but who would pay Eli’s resultant medical bills/funeral IF it doesn’t work?….Taxpayers….and how fast will it take Eli/Eli’s heirs to sue the City of Portland because a police officer didn’t respond???…and who ends up paying for that settlement? Taxpayers. And the Eli’s of the world wonder why they don’t have more support from the vast majority of citizens who admire and respect the police and would not want to live in a civilization without them. Dream on Eli. America was founded on the hopes and dreams and policing was, and is, the only way we still have hope in this country.

  15. John says

    Funny, Eli, I thought the uniform was to identify them as actual officers of the law & easily identifiable from the other guy with a gun trying to rape your wife.

  16. Sara says

    Well, I can assume then that in the event of a robbery or other event needing assistance that Red & Black won’t be calling 911 and asking the Portland Police for help?

  17. jordan says

    Eli, how dare you say that, my father was a portland cop as well as my uncle, great uncle, aunt, and mother, and brother in law.. They are doing a service, just like a meter maid or sanitation worker, we pay them to protect us, and for the most part they do.. My family sacrificed 25 years of each of their lives to serve the city of portland to protect people like you and protect your ability to say what you have.. The term “don’t bite the hand that feeds you (or in this case protects)” comes to mind.. These are men and women with children and families who have the courage everyday to put on that blue uniform and badge and face people like you and still choose to help you, serve you, and protect you.. They never ask for anything, they just do the job, and they deserve the same amount of respect as anyone else. I bet you speak out against racism? Sexism? Discrimination? What do you think the red and black has done here? Or all the other places that do this? Exactly that, racist against their uniforms, discriminatory against their badges.. How about you and all your friends who think we don’t need police go spend one night in north portland on the street, then tell me that.. But until then until you’ve experienced what these fine men and women do everyday, keep your rude and close minded opinion to yourself, because yeah you may not offend those officers because it is a sad fact they are used to this lack of respect, but you offend their wives, their children, their widows and orphans of fallen officers. How would you feel, if someone said what you have about your father? Your mother? You are nothing more than a new aged racist.. And it is sad and unfortunate to share the same city with such a biggot like yourself.

  18. Scott says

    “I also asked him whom he would call if someone came in to rob his store and he said he would call his friends in a community and that is when I knew we were getting nowhere.”

    So he had a legitimate response to your question but you knew ya’ll were getting nowhere because you didn’t like his answer? Some communities find more support from their neighbors than from an armed group of outsiders with vastly different interests. I support the Red and Black’s decision to maintain a safe space for their community.

  19. Joe Schmoe says

    Ms. Seigneur,
    Thanks for the interesting article. Why don’t you or your daughter wriite a version of this for the op-ed page of the Oregonian? It would cause quite a lot of conversation and might do some good. You were a good basketball coach a long time ago.

  20. Eli says

    Please read the book, Our Enemies in Blue. It talks about the history and real mission of the police in America, from current police brutality and racial profiling to Red Squads (and their current manifestations, one reason why the co-owner of a radical community oriented space may not want them there) to Slave Patrols and pre-police institutions. There are ways to build community and create safe neighborhoods without police. If you question how, google ‘alternatives to police’ which will give you many throughout the world. The officer was in his uniform (of intimidation – – it is meant to make people uncomfortable and intimidated) and as a frequenter of the Red and Black, I applaud the decision to ask him to leave. But I go to the Red and Black not just because it is vegan, but because they support other social justice politics I support – They are wobblies, an institution that was greatly harmed by the police, nationally, in the 20’s. Just Say No to single issue politics. If an on-duty cop came to my job, I would not serve him or her, just for the record.

  21. DruglessxF says

    This is the most absurd thing I have ever read about Portland police. Nobody I know cries for person that can kill you and cash a paycheck in the same week without skipping a beat. Police have rarely ever kept me safe, but terrifed, afraid for my life, liberty, and freedom. They are the first string of all state endorsed attacks against the people. They are not to be trusted, and I certainly wouldnt’t feel “comfortable” with them, either. All businesses have the right to tell people to leave whenever they want. Let’s see how your Ladd’s addition coffeeshop treats people with no money, wounded mental faculties, and little children. The Red and Black Café has always strived to be accommodating to people that are not a threat or a danger to the communities they participate in. I salute the courage of the Red and Black co-owner to confront a representative of the Portland Police force and declare their lack of welcome. I will certainly be returning.

  22. K1ngko says

    Thank you for your article. It really means a lot to know there are people who can see the forest through the trees.

  23. Mr. M says

    Well, according to your most thought-provoking article to date, and the subsequently passionate responses from your fans (apparently coming out of the woodwork!), I’m now very curious about this place. And I may cause a bit of a stir in expressing my impatient desire to now visit this curio “commie” indie eatery! Intriguing! I’m also looking forward to visiting the other coffee house. To be continued… :) So, you’re finally stepping out of your comfort zone . . ! Brave new storyteller! I like it! 😀

  24. David says

    I am interested in how many other places respond to peace officers this way. I will be sharing this story at work. There are officers who maybe shouldn’t be officers, however this owner is grouping all of them together, putting a label on them; treating them all the same. If the officer(s) were to do something like this, the owner would most likely be one of the people who would scream the loudest.

    As far as a free cup of coffee or meal, it depends on the area of the country you live in. Out here in the western states most departments would string you up for something as small as a cup of coffee.

  25. Amy says

    The people that don’t support men and woman that serve and protect our community are so disrespectful. If people just repected the law and listened to the police as every video and tape always shows them repeating and shouting at the individual what to do and comply. It’s for there safety and the officers. People that follow simple directions don’t seem to be harmed, it’s the ones that defy the police and refuse to obey. It’s so simple I don’t understand why people don’t get it. Thank you for writing this article.

  26. Sam Adams says

    The police bureau is seriously understaffed and crime is much higher than the “numbers” show. Soon, when crime and especially violent crime starts to affect these people they’ll be the biggest supporters of the police.
    Stanley Kubrick’s favorite joke went something like this –
    “What’s the definition of a neoconservative?”
    “A liberal that just got mugged.”.

  27. peter says

    I think he probably didn’t want the cop to smell the weed he had growing in the backroom. Damn non-contributing hippies.

  28. Hazel says

    I am sure many places would offer a free cup of coffee. However, in Portland if an officer takes a free cup and it is reported to Internal Affairs the officer would be dicsiplined and possibly given unpaid days off….sad, but true.

  29. tara says

    I appreciate you writing this article! We need more people out there like you. What a shame. I am going to boycott this place.

  30. Diba says

    You know back in the 1970s, when cops went to places to eat, or they just needed a cup of coffee, they were frequently given free coffee as a way of a silent thank you. I wonder how many places do that now?

  31. pat says

    I know that off duty Portland officers have patronized the place. They weren[‘t harassed by the bigotted owner because they were not identifiable.

  32. Heather H says

    Thanks for sharing Nelly. Sad. I hope this raises awareness!

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Continuing the Discussion

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  5. Red and black and blue: In need of dialogue on police relations - Oregonian Opinion piece | Cornelia Becker Seigneur~ Author.Speaker.Teacher linked to this post on June 20, 2010

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  7. Do you have what it takes to take the high road? - Discover Policing linked to this post on June 15, 2010

    […] with was a local freelance writer.  A couple of weeks later, she wrote about the experience on her blog and from there the story took off, appearing in the local news, on CNN (see below), and morphing […]

  8. Disloyal Opposition » Blog Archive » Why wouldn’t an anarchist cafe eject a cop? - Viewing the state with disdain, no matter who is in charge linked to this post on June 8, 2010

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