By Jess Dilday
Trigger warning: The police.
A couple of weeks ago, Cocoa Cinnamon** was asked by the Durham Police Department’s Bike Unit if they would participate in a campaign to promote crosswalk safety by “ticketing” people who used the crosswalk safely on the intersection in front of Cocoa Cinnamon. These officers were initially going to make these “tickets” coupons to Krispy Kreme, but thought it might be better to collaborate with Cocoa Cinnamon and hand out coupons for free coffee, since they were going to be right there anyway. Cocoa Cinnamon agreed, posting a photo of officers in front of the shop on social media to promote the campaign, and soon, people began to call out this local coffee staple for collaborating with the police.
As an employee (DISCLAIMER: I work at Cocoa Cinnamon) and activist, I personally felt really uncomfortable with this collaboration, and my immediate thoughts were:
-Cocoa Cinnamon aims to be a space open to all, yet the police scare off a lot of would-be customers who are traditionally targeted by police because of their skin color, their status as undocumented, a history of arrest, or a number of other reasons. Especially here in Durham, where racial profiling by the DPD is rampant.
-Just last year, police in full riot gear kettled, assaulted, and arrested several #blacklivesmatter protestors directly across the street from Cocoa Cinnamon.
Also, the statement Cocoa Cinnamon released on their Facebook page Tuesday leaves a lot to be desired.
Yes, they addressed that black lives matter and apologized to those they had harmed, but then, in the same breath, wrote that they are “grateful to the officers with whom we have developed positive relationships, who put their lives in harm’s way and who have helped to keep our crew and place safe.” By placing the focus on the individual officers, Cocoa Cinnamon is sweeping the much larger systemic issue under the rug. Nice or not, these bike cops are working for the same institution that the cops in full riot gear are, a historically racist institution. According to Angela Davis, “There is an unbroken line of police violence in the United States that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery, the aftermath of slavery, the development of the Ku Klux Klan.” 1 Let’s not forget that these individual officers getting a pat on the back have chosen to work for an incredibly racist and problematic institution.
The people who are angered by Cocoa Cinnamon’s decision to collaborate with the DPD are coming from a very real place. I fully support and appreciate how community activists are holding Cocoa Cinnamon accountable, much like partners hold each other accountable in a healthy relationship. How will Cocoa Cinnamon grow as a business, as a neighbor, and as a vibrant community center when they are left unchecked?
As shocked and appalled as I initially was about Cocoa Cinnamon’s decision to collaborate with the DPD, this is very complicated for me as an employee who has witnessed the extent to which Areli and Leon have gone out of their way to donate time and money to Durham communities in need, to combat gentrification (while acknowledging their place in it), and to treat their employees well. I don’t want to focus a magnifying glass on this one misstep while ignoring the many ways Areli and Leon have been getting it right.
Spending-wise, in 2014 they made the bulk of their donations towards “building a more equitable city,” supporting the Hayti Heritage Center, El Centro Hispano, Spirit House, and more. 2 Areli and Leon regularly attend community workshops on Durham’s growing gentrification as well as anti-racism trainings. Areli has DJ’ed countless benefits and participated in numerous events in support of undocumented immigrant rights. Cocoa Cinnamon is one of the first 20 certified Living Wage Businesses in Durham, paying all non-tipped employees at least $13 an hour.
Areli and Leon are way more involved in fighting injustices than the average business owners. That’s why their collaboration with the police was so surprising.
There is one bright light in the statement they put out on Facebook Tuesday – Cocoa Cinnamon mentions working with SpiritHouse’s Harm Free Zone. The Harm Free Zone “emphasizes independent and self directing community autonomy as a necessary step towards creating true accountability for our communities, that reduces our reliance on law enforcement.”3 Now, THIS feels right to me. Community accountability. I would love to see something like this in place specifically for small businesses that can ensure the safety of employees and customers without having to involve the police. Some may say this sounds utopian but nationally, there are already alternatives to choose from. I would love to hear from and about other groups working on alternatives in the comments section.
Cocoa Cinnamon is listening. They are curious, willing to admit a mistake, and open to learning. As both business owners and human beings, Areli and Leon have enormous hearts, and truly care about the well being of others. I know them well enough to know that they would never want to see members of their community hurting and triggered. As they’ve stated in their Facebook post, they are open to having conversations about how their police collaboration has affected members of their community. So let’s talk.
**Though it should go without saying, I want to be clear that these are my personal views and not necessarily the views of Cocoa Cinnamon. For the company perspective you can visit http://facebook.com/cocoacinnamondream and http://cocoacinnamon.com.
2All of this information is available on their website: http://www.cocoacinnamon.com/