Whittier Cafe bench vandalized with racist graffiti

Posted at 10:48 AM, May 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-31 12:48:47-04

DENVER – Someone wrote a racial slur on a bench in front of the Whittier Café that was discovered Wednesday and prompted a police investigation.

Millete Birhanemaskel, who runs the café, says a customer sent her a text message with a picture of the slur Wednesday morning. Someone wrote “f---in n-----s” on the bench, and Birhanemaskel’s husband, Jeff Fard, posted the picture of the message to Facebook.

“Is this how someone(s) disrespect a Black woman, community owned business? Not in this town!” he wrote in the post. He was subsequently interviewed by Denverite, which first reported the vandalism.

In an interview Wednesday evening, Birhanemaskel told Denver7 that neither she nor her employees had seen the slur because they had entered through the back door that morning. She said she called police, who took a report.

The vandalism prompted City Council President Albus Brooks to tweet about the incident.

“This vandalism was found in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood at a black owned coffee shop. I post it to expose hate and racism in our own backyard. We have much work to do. Racism exist [sic], and we must expose it…” Brooks, who represents that area of Denver and who is also black, tweeted.

Birhanemaskel said the response from the community, however, showed that the slur had the “exact opposite impact” it was intended to have. She said she received several bouquets of flowers and had numerous customers come in to show support.

“To think we were picked out and targeted in an historically-black community is a strange and uncomfortable thing,” she said. “[It] feels like there’s such a culture of hate, so it’s not entirely surprising. But it is shocking when it shows up at your front door.”

Birhanemaskel says the café has long been a gathering place and a “social justice hub,” and said people have lashed out in similar ways before, including one time where a dead pig was put into the café’s trash can after a gathering following the police shooting of Jessica Hernandez.

But she said the support was helpful Wednesday, despite the fear it creates for some employees.

“One of our customers sanded [the slur] off and said, ‘This is not who we are.’”