After asking OPD to leave, this cafe drew up a plan for the safety of the community
In 2018, the Hasta Muerte The East Oakland cafe grabbed national headlines when they asked the Oakland cops to quit their cafe.
Matt Gereghty, co-owner of the cooperative cafe, was the first person to brief an officer on the cafe’s policy of asking the cops to leave. He read a collectively written script that the staff had composed before opening the store.
Gereghty tells me it wasn’t meant to be a big thing, just the cafe’s attempts to provide peace of mind to their customers. They serve a community where people have had traumatic experiences with police officers or live in fear because of their document status.
Keep in mind that this was 2018 and President Donald Trump’s pro-police and anti-immigration rhetoric was flooding the media.
When people found out about the policy, right-wing pro-Trump protesters waved American flags with thin blue lines. in front of the cafe. Hasta Muerte also received a letter from the president of the Oakland Police Association saying that the policy was “a matter of concern to all Oakland police officers.”
The story has been covered locally and nationally; he grew up to the point that they even mentioned him on View. But Hasta Muerte has not officially spoken to any publication about what has happened so far.
This week on Rightnowish, we discuss this East Oakland cafe’s community approach to security, cops, and media.
Below are slightly edited snippets from my conversation with Matt Gereghty.
Matt: We sure didn’t think it would move from nightly local news, where it started, to Fox & Friends and doing national news … We were just like, it’s out of proportion, it’s happening in cities everywhere. All the time.
Matt: There are a lot of people working around this. We just do what we do from where we are. And so we agreed not to talk about it to the media at all, because we know that there is a whole PR machine that is mainly designed for these institutions and that promotes the work of the police.
Pen: How did you feel when he made the headlines?
Matt: It was definitely a mixture of feelings because we had already started to receive flack. We had started to receive Facebook messages saying, “… it’s a shameful thing” and like, “He’s a Latino officer. You should have respect for Latino officers. And we’re just like, no, that’s not how it really works, though …
Matt: We were a new company – Latinx, POC, co-op kind of a motley crew – we just wanted to maintain our business and keep pushing … We had a blast with that too …
Matt: Our phone started blowing up with reporters calling and we decided we weren’t going to talk to them. We wore bandanas in the shop so they couldn’t take our pictures. We kept the blinds drawn. And I remember the first reporter, I think, from NBC, she was waiting at the door before we opened and she walked in and I had put on Zenyatta Mondatta, The Police album, my favorite, so when she got me asked about the police, I could tell we love The Police, we all have their albums.
Pen: What has happened since?
Matt: We like to say that for every lost customer, which was maybe a handful, three times that number arrived as supporters. So we were able to determine who our community is because they can see what we are … It was not our intention to impose ourselves. It was more natural… It came from who we are as people.
Pen: Got it, why talk to me now?
Matt: Now, 3 years later, the escalations of last summer, both in terms of police assassinations and violence, white supremacism on the surface, people are like, ‘Well if you don’t don’t go call the police, who are you gonna call? … That’s a great question. Let’s talk about it.
Pen: So Matt, what are some of the strategies that you and the cafe have adopted to avoid potential issues of violence or danger?
Matt: So we had some de-escalation and self-defense training. It was a first step in ensuring that [we could handle] neighborhood stuff, issues around the corner in a way that we feel sure to put our bodies in the way or just time the situation and go from there.
Pen: And the security at the cafe was put to the test… making us understand what happened.
Matt: There has been a series of laptop thefts across the bay. I mean, there were rings that did that. Of course, it appeared in our shop. So we’re like, we’ve got to do something. We built a small screen door to make a barrier for people who are getting exhausted. It really helped, and a few times they got caught up in it. On a daily basis, it was good for people with young children not to run in the street.
Matt: And then we just talked to our neighbors … honestly I rolled a few joints and passed them out and chilled and just talked [with people outside] like, ‘look, you saw that happen, right? Like, I wonder what can we do? If you can tell us, if you see them … ”And they answered the call. They didn’t come to tell us, they just went to these kids and we were like, ‘Hey, take him somewhere else. And that’s and it ended up being how it shrank.
Pen: Do you think this is an example that can be replicated elsewhere?
Matt: I think with some care. We’re talking about it now with a select group of other co-ops and small businesses owned specifically by POCs and Blacks … a small alliance so that we can share ideas, stories, resources. [For example] how do you have security without police? How do you make a living without exploiting people and being affordable enough that your people can afford in capitalism? They are all connected.
Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or hit the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple podcasts, Grant, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.