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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