Red & Black cafe shows Portland officer the door, won't sell him coffee again
By Lynne Terry, The Oregonian
June 03, 2010, 3:41PM
In mid-May, Portland police Officer James Crooker went to Southeast Portland on a patrol call. With a few minutes to spare, he decided to get a coffee.
So, he popped into the Red & Black cafe on Southeast 12th Avenue near Oak Street, bought a coffee and was heading out when a customer approached him, saying she appreciates the hard job that police officers do every day in Portland.
One of the co-owners of the cafe, John Langley, has another point of view. While the officer and customer were chatting, he walked up and asked Crooker to leave, saying he felt uncomfortable having a uniformed officer in the vegan cafe.
The incident, which was brief, speaks volumes about the tensions between Portland police and some members of the community who are more worried about police shootings than protection.
Crooker said he was surprised to be shown the door but left immediately. He said this marked a first during his nine-year in law enforcement, two in Portland and seven in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
"The places that I've been kicked out of before have been places like the methadone clinic," he said. "I've never been kicked out of a regular cafe."
But the 36-year-old officer, who was born and raised in Portland, said it's all part of working this city's streets in a uniform.
"We have a unique relationship with the community," he said. "You're there to protect them but on the other hand they don't know what that involves. Being gracious is part of it."
A former Marine who served in Iraq, Crooker didn't take the incident to heart.
"It was not personal," he said. "He was being hostile to my uniform," he said.
Langley, who did not raise his voice during the encounter, agreed.
"It's not about the police," Langley said. "It's about what the police represent to many people who frequent the cafe.
The cafe draws vegans -- of course -- along with homeless people and animal-rights and environmental activists who Langley said have been targets of police abuse and harassment.
But the cafe also draws customers like Cornelia Seigneur, who blogged about the incident on her website
Seigneur, a freelancer for The Oregonian who was enjoying lunch with her daughter on May 18 when Crooker came in, was the one who approached him.
"There have been some unfortunate situations recently," Seigneur said. "But overall the police are out there day in and day out protecting us."
She said she struck up a conversation with Crooker to show her support for police, who she said saved the life of a friend after he was shot by gang members.
When Langley asked Crooker to leave, she was startled.
"It was shocking," Seigneur said. "Everyone deserves to have a coffee, and he was served a coffee. It was humiliating."
She said there were only about three other people in the cafe and that no else seemed to notice the officer.
But the incident has fired a reaction, with dozens of comments pouring into Seigneur's website
It's been so overwhelming that she took the blog post down but put it back up Thursday afternoon.
The cafe, too, has received a deluge of calls, with about half supporting the cafe and the rest expressing anger.
"We've received threats," Langley said. "People have threatened to attack us and break our windows."
Still, he has no regrets.
"I never expected a police officer to come into the space," he said. "If it happened again, I wouldn't serve him."