LYNN — So this is how the world works now.
It’s not enough to just disagree with somebody who says something some find odious. No, angry mobs must be set upon them, to terrify them and destroy their lives. Especially if they’re women.
Today’s chapter in this ghastly saga? The rage that killed the coffee shop.
Last week, Kato Mele’s 23-year-old daughter said some things on Facebook that many people found appalling. She wrote that the White Rose Coffeehouse in Lynn, which her mother owns and where she worked, would never host a “coffee with a cop” event, klatches designed to build goodwill between police and the community.
“I will not be part of the false rhetoric that cops are just misunderstood good guys,” Mele’s daughter wrote, among other things. “They uphold an unjust system and murder without consequence.”
Kato Mele was working her second job as an Uber driver when the post went up. By the time she saw it, a few hours later, it had begun to spread. She was angry with her daughter, not for expressing an opinion Mele herself finds appalling, as is her daughter’s right, but for linking it to the cafe. Mele demanded her daughter take the post down, which she did immediately.
Mele wrote a letter of apology to the Lynn Police Department, calling her daughter’s comments a “reprehensible affront, distasteful, biased and hateful,” expressing support for their work, and inviting them to the coffee shop.
The chief of police in Lynn responded beautifully.
“This is a non-story,” Michael Mageary told Lynn’s Daily Item on Sunday. “This young lady has the right to say whatever she wants and we respect that. We will continue to do our job every day. My sense is that most officers will avoid the establishment, but that is their choice.”
But by then, it was already too late. A mob had descended within hours of the Facebook post, whipped up by a website that specializes in (and makes money from) marshaling drooling goons for mass attacks, mostly on victims who express left-of-center views.
They got into the cafe’s Facebook page, leaving hundreds of bad reviews to drive its five-star rating down. Mele’s daughter received rape threats. On Monday, the cafe was slammed with abusive callers, saying horrific things: They hoped Mele and her daughter are ruined, that they never work again, that her daughter drowns. An especially charming bunch of them, parroting a line from the hateful website that played on “coffee with a cop,” said they wanted to have coffee with a c-word.
“These are people targeting us for the stupid opinion of a 23-year-old,” Mele said. “If I had social media when I was 23, I don’t know what I would have done. We’re all dumb at 23.”
Mele was sitting in her empty cafe Thursday morning. In the year since it opened, the White Rose had become a community hub — a place for locals to come get coffee or a beer, to see art or listen to music. She’d hosted events to raise money for victims displaced by a big fire in town; for RAW, a youth art program; to give school supplies to kids whose parents couldn’t afford them.
“We have done whatever we can,” she said. “We have no televisions here. We wanted it to be a place where people could just sit and talk to anybody.”
Now Mele is shutting it all down, and with it her dream. After she survived cancer, she sold her house and liquidated her retirement fund to start the White Rose, and despite its place in the community, this first year had been a financial struggle. The cafe was running week-to-week before this happened. On Monday, the cafe was mostly deserted. Many of the people who came in were friends, offering condolences and dropping $10 or $20 into the tip jar. She couldn’t survive more than a few days like that — especially without her daughter’s help. Worse, she no longer wants to.
“What I have here is a family business that has no family,” she said. “Maybe I could weather this. But this used to be a place of joy for me, and I don’t see a way that I will ever feel that way again.”
And so she is boxing up the remaining food to take to a local homeless shelter before it spoils, and calling her vendors to assure them they’ll be paid once her condo sale goes through. She has shut down all of her social media (which has led some of frustrated haters to move on to attack a business that made a video about the White Rose before the controversy). Her younger daughter, who is 12, is still terrified her mother will be hurt by one of the monsters targeting her online.
Mele hopes her family’s time on the rack will pass. But the ugliness won’t. This is where we are now.
As the anonymous poster (these cowards are always anonymous) at the website that led the charge against the White Rose wrote, speaking for “the majority of Americans”: “We put up with you for a while, but those days are over. Now we burn s***.”
People can’t just disagree. They can’t just withhold their money from a business whose owners do something they detest. Boycotts, a perfectly reasonable, civil, response in such situations, aren’t enough. Hiding behind their screens, the worst among us must also get nasty, must personally attack somebody for something they did or said.
Don’t like it that Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City (apparently unwittingly) got used as a prop in a signing ceremony by a president you detest? Fine. Don’t spend your money there. Maybe even politely explain why. But don’t call and attack the guy and bludgeon him on social media.
Disagree with what Mele’s daughter said about police? You’re in good company. As the Lynn police chief says, customers will make their own decisions, though it would be pretty unfair to penalize the mother for opinions she not only did not express, but that she disowned.
But that doesn’t matter. People now get their kicks, and sometimes their profit, from destroying people they’ve never met. They get to satisfy their bloodlust and find an outlet for their racism and misogyny and a remedy for their deep feelings of inadequacy in other people’s pain.
This week it was Mele’s turn. Next week it will be somebody else’s. And it seems none of us can stop people filled with hate from burning down life after life, every week after that.
“Last I checked, you could have an opinion in this country, even if it’s one people find disgraceful,” an exhausted Mele said.
Sorry. Check again.Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.