Grandad’s hosts Coffee with a Cop; Hamilton anarchists offer Coffee Without Cops outside
From The Hamilton Spectator, July 26, 2019
Even before Pride violence, police program was a lightning rod of controversy
It was a normal Saturday morning rush at Grandad's doughnut shop in Hamilton's North End.
Normal except for the three uniformed police officers chatting with customers inside.
And the eight or so anarchists handing out free coffee and a "different view of police" outside the popular spot at the foot of James Street North near the bay front.
Inside, Coffee With a Cop aimed to "break down the intimidation factor," said Const. Ray Wong, a member of the community mobilization division in the criminal prevention branch.
"We want to engage with people," Wong said while chatting with customer James Bott in a diner-style booth.
Outside, Coffee Without Cops, which included a table with handouts on the edge of the plaza's parking lot, offered another view, Cedar Hopperton said.
"A lot of people don't feel safer when they see police around. A lot of people's problems come primarily from the cops."
Trust between police and the LGBTQ+ community has bottomed out ever since violence broke out at Pride celebrations in Gage Park on June 15.
Critics have voiced outrage over police's late arrival to a brawl that broke out after homophobic preachers and their far-right supporters crashed the annual event.
Sparking further anger, three counterprotesters who confronted the anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrators by positioning a large fabric screen in front of them have been charged.
Meanwhile, only one member of the anti-Pride camp, "helmet guy" Christopher Vanderweide, has been charged. The 27-year-old Kitchener man faces two charges of assault with a weapon.
Hopperton, a 33-year-old trans person, was also arrested in the wake of Pride for a parole violation associated with a conviction in an anti-gentrification vandalism spree on Locke Street in 2018.
At first, police alleged Hopperton was at Gage Park during the clash, but the Ontario Parole Board later dismissed that evidence as insufficient in the face of several sworn affidavits rejecting the accusation.
Board members, however, decided to keep Hopperton jailed at the Vanier Institute for Women in Milton due to a speech critical of police during an LGBTQ+ forum at city hall on June 18.
On Saturday, Hopperton acknowledged different people can have different experiences with police.
"For a lot of people, they represent a lot of violence, harassment and intimidation in their lives."
The Coffee Without Cops table included literature about Hamilton police officers who been disciplined for various transgressions. A guide — "12 things to do instead of calling the cop" — was also on offer as police watched over the event.
Grandad's owner Barb Marsden said police and customers alike asked her to host Coffee With a Cop. But Marsden, who has operated the eatery for 12 years, said the business faced pressure not to do so.
"We don't pick sides. I'm not like that ... I'm not going to say 'You're welcome and you're not' to anybody," she said. "But I'm also not going to be bullied."
Despite her initial concerns, the morning turned out peaceful, Marsden said. "I'm pretty happy about it."
The LGBTQ+ community is also welcome to ask about hosting an event at Grandad's, she said.
But even before Pride, Coffee With a Cop was a lightning rod of controversy.
In May, Café Oranje, which is downtown on King Street East, hosted the event while Coffee Without Cops set up on the sidewalk outside.
Café Oranje filled the void after Mulberry Coffeehouse on James Street North cancelled its date when people complained they'd feel uncomfortable. The owner said the spectre of picketing also played a role in the cancellation.
Police have characterized the program as a casual forum for members of the public to ask officers questions and chat over a cup of coffee.
At Grandad's, Wong said he and Bott were mostly sharing their life stories. "Look at us. We're sitting down. We're talking to people."
Police want to export Coffee With a Cop beyond downtown and area, including food courts at Mountain shopping malls, post-secondary campuses and outlying communities like Waterdown, Wong said.
"We're not hear to promote ourselves. We're not here to give a message."
Outside, Woody Boychuk said he didn't expect police to have "any honest dialogue" with customers.
"What we want to do is win over the hearts of people," he added.
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