Johnson Street coffee shop target of racist graffiti

The owners of Johnson Public House say that staff Saturday morning discovered a sign affixed to the front window of the coffeehouse that read, “It’s okay to be white.” Surrounding the words were five photos of Trump. A sign in support of the Black Lives Matter movement was also damaged.

Like many Madison business owners, Gwen Shales, who owns the coffeehouse with partner Kyle Johnson, wanted to publicly respond this May to the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. All summer the message “Stop killing Black people” has appeared in big letters in the window of the cafe’s storefront. 

“We put it up after George Floyd was murdered and kept it up because it seems to be relevant daily. It is a simple statement, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” says Shales.

Shales says the sign was also vandalized: a comma was scrawled in permanent marker in between “Stop killing” and “Black people.”

“It just makes me feel sad that there’s a lot of hate that people are feeling emboldened to propagate,” says Shales.

Shales says they have no plans to take down their message in support of Black Lives Matter. The vandalism was discovered the same day Trump was holding a rally in Janesville. 

“The greatest way to show someone they matter is to first: not kill them. And second: not justify their murder,” says Shales. ”The fact that the message ‘It’s okay to be white’ was adhered with Trump stickers, it seems like these outcasts are feeling seen and heard by our president. Which is obviously not a good thing.” 

Trump declined to condemn white supremacy groups at the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 when asked about them by moderator Chris Wallace. When pressed this week on his initial reluctance to disavow hate groups like the Proud Boys, the president was incredulous about being asked. 

“I denounced white supremacy. I denounced white supremacy for years, but you always start with the question,” said Trump at the Oct. 15 NBC News town hall. “I denounced white supremacy. I denounce Antifa, and I denounce these people on the left that are burning down our cities, that are run by Democrats.”

Shales is not sure whether she will follow up with police since they were able to clean up the small amount of damage to the storefront window. She is going to ask other businesses on Johnson Street to check their surveillance cameras to see if footage of the culprits exists. 

“I’m angry and sad,” says Shales. “Not for myself or my business. Just society.”

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