No Cops With My Coffee

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.

-This collaboration happened on the anniversary of Jesus ‘Chuy” Huerta’s death in police custody.

Police in full riot gear during demonstration for Jesus 'Chuy' Huerta. Photo by Justin Cook for Indy Week

Police in full riot gear during demonstration for Jesus ‘Chuy’ Huerta. Photo by Justin Cook for Indy Week.

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 and


2All of this information is available on their website:


Jess Dilday is Clarion Content's current Editor-in-Chief and regular contributor. Jess originally moved to Durham to be a part of vibrant communities centered on music, art, and activism. Jess sees Durham as a place where people don’t just sit at a bar and talk about great ideas and rad projects - we put them into action. Their other alias is DJ and producer, PlayPlay. PlayPlay is in a constant musical conversation with the public, speaking across generation, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality to create an all-inclusive dance floor. PlayPlay has opened for Big Freedia, MC Lyte, TT the Artist, Dai Burger, Double Duchess, Le1f, Jubilee, MikeQ, Cakes Da Killa and others. They are also one of the organizers and resident DJs behind Party Illegal (a monthly dance party in Durham) as well as the creator and organizer of several themed parties at the Pinhook, including the Dreaming of the 90's and Dark Entries parties.


  • Reply December 8, 2015


    Time and time again the people of Durham want the police to be more community oriented. Here they are doing just that. Getting involved with local businesses to help promote crosswalk safety to keep people safe. But instead of seeing the positive you Instead attack the local business and crucify the police for trying to work with the community. You tout your all cops are racist bullshit and they are all evil. We all know that the vast majority of Police are neither racist or abusive. Are there bad apples? you bet. Do they eventually get found and removed? Yes. How do you expect for things to improve when you condem and put down those who are trying to make a positive difference. There is a very simple solution to this. If you don’t like their business choices then simply refrain from going to the business again. But they most certain did not make a mistake and they most certainly do not have to apologize to you because their views do not align with yours.

  • Reply December 9, 2015

    Michelle Irvine

    I applaud our officers for thinking “outside the box” and choosing a positive way to reinforce and reward people for doing the right thing instead of taking the negative stance and penalizing those doing the wrong thing. And I too don’t think the owners of Cocoa Cinnamon have anything to apologize for – there was no “misstep” here. Jess Dilday has single handedly turned a good deed into an issue to promote her own personal agenda bringing her politics into her workplace and doing a serious injustice to her employers. She is clearly so caught up in her “cause” and her own need for attention that she cannot even see that what she is doing is completely inappropriate and counter productive to improving police and community relations here in Durham.

    This was about the Police Dept. responding to safety concerns brought to their attention by the community and doing it in about as pleasant, and positive way as humanly possible! I wish more businesses would get involved in trying to promote this kind of good will. Instead, people like Jess Dilday are going to make everyone fearful of participating in something that is going to make them a target of these unbalanced activists! She has chosen to use this to incite more controversy and ill-will towards our law enforcement. Perhaps she just feels the need to fan the flames to ensure the continuance of her cause – she can’t allow things to improve because what then would she have to complain about? Some people need a cause and sadly get so wrapped up in it that they won’t allow the change that they claim to be fighting for because without that fight to identify with they are nothing.

  • Reply December 9, 2015


    Oh now I understand…

    “….social networks seem to be feeding a cycle of action and reaction.” Farhad Manjoo

    and a little more from the same article:
    “There is little room for indulging nuance, complexity, or flirting with the middle ground. In every issue, you are either with one aggrieved group or the other, and the more stridently you can express your disdain…the better reaction you’ll get.”–Farhad Manjoo


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