I walked into the Red and Black today and was surprised to hear that they have been featured on CNN and Gawker in the past few days.
The story is: “Cops vs. Vegans”
But, this, of course, has nothing to do with what really happened, it is just what the newspapers and corporate media websites have chosen to write about.
First, Portland police officers are for me almost always considerate, talkative and open, and put their lives on the line on a daily basis to help resolve conflict, and make the world safer for people. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but I’ve personally never had a bad experience with a Portland police officer.
And, “vegans” (full disclosure: I try to eat as vegan as possible, but I don’t call myself a vegan because identities disconnect me from others) are for me, people that are willing to live against the grain, committed to a lifestyle that is never easy, subject to ridicule and hatred, and live a lifestyle where it is possible to have delicious and healthy food without animal cruelty and the environmental effects of industrial meat production.
So, the story, as told by CNN and Gawker, among others, is that a “vegan” threw out a cop. The details are sparse, but the reactions in the comments seem pretty typical: the vegans just hate the cops, and the cops just hate the vegans.
As I said I accidentally went into the Red and Black, unaware of the controversy, and was upset to hear that people are making threatening phone calls and that “gun blogs” are in uproar. I’m sure some of this is just hearsay, but I got worried because I know a lot of the people there and worry about their safety.
When I was told what was happening, one of the workers there told me they asked the officer to leave because he was carrying a gun. If you have been there, you know there are a lot of counter-culture people there, many of which are anarchists. So, the story could be that many of the customers who frequent the Red and Black are fearful of police and especially of someone in that position with a gun. I won’t go into the rationality of this, but I think it is fair to keep a gun free space. I don’t know, and did not ask, how the officer was asked to leave. Some people have questioned the tact of taking his money for coffee and then asking him to leave, but I suppose there would be the same outrage if they had not served him at all. In the end, is this different is this from a cafe with a large black clientele asking someone dressed as a skinhead to leave (I am not being rhetorical here).
For me the story is that the Red and Black wants to create a safe space and it does not work to have guns in that space. I think this is a very different story than what has appeared in the media.
If you don’t know the Red and Black, there are some other things to know. The Red and Black has been worker owned before it was cool. They offer coffee which is organically grown and fair trade (“Equal Exchange”). They are connected to workers-rights and labor movements and often host alternative discussions. To be frank, I am not always aligned with the anti-corporate mentalities I see in these talks, but I believe my intentions and theirs come from the same commitments, to make the world a better place. I think there are a lot of values that the Red and Black support (without the glory which corporate chains receive), which are very important to many Portlanders who don’t eat or consider themselves vegetarians. But, the inaccurate and dishonest stories serve to disconnect and demonize people on both sides.
In the end, this is another example, for me, of the corporate media creating a story and controversy, one which has the potential to stimulate violence. If you’ve gotten this far, my request would be to turn off the blogs, turn off your TV, and get connected to the people in your community, both the police and the vegan anarchists. They are really not such bad guys. That includes journalists; just don’t read what they write in a corporate media outlet, because unfortunately those organizations won’t make money for printing “Oops, nothing sensationalistic to see here.”