All the outrage over sci-fi restaurant not serving armed police is absurd



Imagine a scenario where you’ve just finished your shift at the power plant and decide to stop at a restaurant for dinner while carrying a barrel of toxic waste. You’re not there to unleash the toxic slime on anyone or even discuss the barrel with a skull decal on it – you just intend to eat a meal with it sitting next to you.

Unfortunately, although you are a licensed waste handler, the barrel makes the room tense: some customers, who may have had bad past experiences with toxic sludge, are afraid of getting splashed with something that might hurt them. skin fall off, and the staff are concerned about the statistics on how exposure to these substances can kill, or at least make people sick. So the host tells you that in fact you cannot come in with this barrel, although you can certainly come and eat without it. Does the restaurant, a private company, discriminate against you?

Obviously, I’m not just talking about toxic waste. But the recent fury over a San Francisco restaurant refusing service to people with visible firearms seems just as absurd as this example. On Friday, December 3, staff at the North Beach brunch restaurant, Hilda and Jesse, asked three armed police officers not to dine there while on duty.

“It’s not that we’re anti-police,” co-owner Rachel Sillcocks told ABC7. “It’s about the fact that we don’t allow guns in our restaurant. We were uncomfortable so we politely asked them to leave. It has nothing to do with being officers, and everything to do with carrying guns.

Since the weekend, the company has been the subject of numerous falsified 1-star reviews on Yelp and Google and withdrawals from right-wing opinion bodies like Breitbart. Commentators accused the restaurant of “anti-police fanaticism” and practically salivated as they imagined a myriad of violent crimes that could occur at the company. Under scrutiny and pressure from people who had never heard of the restaurant before, the owners have issued an apology on social media.

The flashback for such a non-problem should strike any rational person as a ridiculous waste of time. No one at Hilda and Jesse has spat in a cop’s face, and there is no evidence that anyone acted outrageously. Although the outcry suggests the restaurant made a statement about police funding or released an “all cops are bastards” meme, the owners actually wrote a contrite account of the event on Friday night.

“We welcome (the officers) into the restaurant when they are not on duty, without uniform and without their weapons,” read their now-deleted Instagram post about it. In an apology email passed down to former KRON personality Stanley Roberts, Sillcocks clarified, “Our restaurant is a safe space – especially for queer and bipoc (sic) people,” she wrote, and the presence of uniformed officers, armed with multiple weapons, put the uncomfortable staff.

But to hell with the facts of direct interaction: It just became another footnote in the right-wing’s thirst to portray San Francisco as modern Sodom and Gomorrah.

To be clear, this case is not about discrimination, although the word has appeared often in opinion pieces about this restaurant. And it’s a question of whether people with guns – and to a greater extent, police officers – are a protected class. It is clear that under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959, neither is protected by the legal definition of discrimination. (Although police officers do in fact enjoy certain special protections from criminal prosecution under California law.) California companies are prohibited by law from discriminating against the public on the basis of characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, immigration status, age, race and other personal attributes. No one is born with a gun in their hand. And in the same way, no one is born a police officer.

Otherwise, private companies have the right to restrict their services to clients who abide by house rules. Perhaps that means posting signs that say “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” restricting restroom use to paying guests, or, yes, banning guns from the property.

The owners of Hilda and Jesse are not the only restaurateurs to make this choice. Hasta Muerte, a cafe in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, refused service to an officer in 2018. The store, owned by a worker collective, has an explicit policy against armed officers on duty. Their reasoning was that hosting members of a department with a documented history of incidents of excessive use of force against communities of color could compromise the security of the space.

To understand these two cases, it is necessary to know why some might disagree with the idea that armed police officers are by nature benevolent entities. Trans women, especially trans women of color, tend to be profiled and harassed by law enforcement officials who assume they are engaging in illegal sex work. There have been countless instances throughout our history where police brutalized black people for alleged offenses, ranging from sitting too long in a cafe to a poolside party.

It is also important to consider why restaurant staff would feel particularly uncomfortable with the presence of firearms.

We live in an age where hospitality workers have been under tremendous pressure: to perform with a smile while enforcing often changing and controversial vaccination and mask policies, and to do so while risking infection and disease. violence from angry customers. This country’s restaurant and retail workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic in many ways, but they are not being praised in the same way as doctors, scientists or even the police. In fact, within the outrage lies a pungent shade of disbelief that simple restaurant staff should be trusted to establish what makes them feel safe, even if this is not in keeping with the prevailing ideas of ” law and order ”.

Hasta Muerte suffered a similar backlash to her decision, although unlike Hilda and Jesse, the collective maintained their policy. He found alternatives to the police to address his own security concerns: Homeowners received self-defense and de-escalation training, added a screen door as a barrier to prevent theft, and asked neighbors to remove them. help keep an eye open.

But we live in a country where anything that isn’t full support for the thin blue line can easily be interpreted in bad faith as endorsement of crime and lawlessness. The instinctive, overbearing response to perceived disrespect – even in the mildest of cases, as this one obviously is – is as terrifying in scope as it is unsurprising. Its absurdity makes it all the more juicy for those who hope Americans never have serious discussions about gun control and policing.

Following increased public criticism of institutions like prisons and the police, the fabricated outrage over the Hilda and Jesse case goes beyond the individual incident. It sends a message to the audience: bow to the gun, or face the consequences.

Soleil Ho is the food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @hooleil

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