A former coffee-shop owner in Massachusetts went out of business and became the target of an online harassment campaign after her daughter made an anti-police comment on Facebook. Today, the coffeehouse is closed and the daughter has gone into hiding after taking down her social media presence. Here’s five things to know about Kato Mele, Sophie CK and the former White Rose Coffeehouse of Lynn, Massachusetts:
1. It Started Over a Facebook Post About “Coffee With a Cop”
The “Coffee with a Cop” program started in Hawthorne, California, in 2011, but has since spread to all 50 states and other countries. According to the capsule history on Coffee with a Cop’s website, the program started “as a result of a brainstorming session. Members of the Hawthorne Police Department were looking for ways to interact more successfully with the citizens they served each day. … The Hawthorne Police Department hit upon a simple plan to break through the barriers that have been built over the years–a cup of coffee.”
The police in Lynn, Massachusetts participate in the program, with monthly kaffeeklatsches held at a local coffeeshop called Land of a Thousand Hills. Another local coffee shop, the White Rose Coffeehouse, was owned by a woman named Kato Mele. Mele’s 23-year-old daughter, who went by the online sobriquet Sophie CK, managed the store.
On the weekend of Oct. 15, Sophie CK wrote on her since-deleted Facebook page that she would never allow Coffee with a Cop meetings to take place at the White Rose. As reported by local news site The Item, during the resulting online discussion, CK said that police are “bullies” and her comment was “Absolutely not a mistake. Citizens do not need to humanize police officers, police need to humanize citizens, particularly black citizens which they seem to struggle with doing, considering they keep murdering them.”
CK posted that comment on a Friday night. The next Sunday, Oct. 15, Mele told The Item that her daughter’s employment with the coffeehouse had been terminated, and that CK had made that post (and dragged the coffeehouse business into the discussion) without her mother’s knowledge or consent. She also posted a public apology to “all Law Enforcement agencies and specifically the Lynn Massachusetts Police Department for the reprehensible affront, distasteful, biased and hateful remarks made by the manager of the White Rose on a personal Facebook page….Effective immediately, the manager of the White Rose Coffee House is terminated for cause.” Mele’s apology also extended an invitation to “interested Lynn law enforcement to visit the White Rose … to help us make amends.”
But police did not go to the White Rose, and by that Tuesday, Mele had closed her business. The final straw, she told The Item, came the night of Monday. Oct. 16, when she came home to find a TV news crew in her driveway. Mele closed the White Rose next day.
2. Mele, CK and White Rose Started Getting Violent Threats
When Sophie CK’s anti-police comments first went viral, Lynn’s chief of police, Michael Mageary, told The Item that “This is a non-story. The young lady has a right to say whatever she wants and we respect that. We will continue to do our job everyday. My sense is most officers will avoid the establishment, but that’s their choice.”
But the police chief’s comment did not reduce the outrage from self-appointed police defenders. The Boston Globe reports that on Monday, after Margery’s comment but before Mele closed the coffeehouse, “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. … Mele’s daughter received rape threats.”
Mele herself expressed dismay over the mob mentality she experienced: ““These are people targeting us for the stupid opinion of a 23-year-old. If I had social media when I was 23, I don’t know what I would have done. We’re all dumb at 23.”
The year-old White Rose Coffeehouse had already been “running week-to-week” before the coffee with a cop brouhaha, says the Globe. “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. [Mele] couldn’t survive more than a few days like that — especially without her daughter’s help. Worse, she no longer wants to.”
Mele shut down all of her social media accounts, but told the Globe that her 12-year-old daughter still worries that her mother will be hurt by one of her online targeters.
3. White Rose was Also Trashed by Anonymous Online Reviewers
Whenever a business receives negative publicity (especially when it’s sufficient to generate ONLINE OUTRAGE), it’s expected that people who’ve never patronized that business to nonetheless leave scathing negative online reviews. The results of a search for reviews of the now-defunct White Rose Coffeehouse are no different. On Google Reviews, as of Oct. 23, the coffeehouse had a total of 66 reviews averaging 3.9 stars out of a possible five.
Though scrolling through the review timeline shows that up until two weeks ago, the coffeehouse mostly had detailed reviews with high ratings, many from reviewers who’d already posted multiple reviews. Then, starting “in the last week” (according to the pale-gray timeline font), the coffeehouse started getting multiple one-star reviews, mostly from people with no prior viewing history. “Absolutely the worst customer service I’ve had in the past few years. Staff was rude and the coffee tasted strong [sic] of bleach,” read a typical such comment.
A similar pattern appeared on Yelp: glowing five-star reviews until Sophie CK’s Facebook post went viral, then reviewers from all over the country (according to the locations listed on their Yelp accounts) reported experiencing bad coffee and worse customer service at the White Rose. Other reviewers didn’t bother mentioning the coffeehouse itself, but only posted pro-police statements, such as the woman from California who wrote “Don’t call a cop if you’re in trouble if you hate ALL of them.”
4. The Coffeehouse had Been in Business Less Than a Year
Even when the White Rose was in business, Kato Mele worked a second job as an Uber driver to make ends meet. According to the Boston Globe, during those first few hours after her daughter’s anti-police posts went online, Mele was driving an Uber shift and had no idea of the scandal brewing on social media in her business’ name. Once she discovered her daughter’s posts, Mele asked her to take them down immediately.
Sophie complied with her mother’s requests, but the damage to the coffeehouse’s reputation had already been done.
The coffeehouse had been open less than a year before it closed. The Globe says Mele is a cancer survivor who liquidated her retirement account in order to open the coffeeshop. After closing the shop, the Globe said, Mele is selling her condo to get the money to pay the coffeehouse’s remaining vendors’ bills.
5. The Initial Outrage was Almost Entirely Fueled by a Local Far-Right Blogger
Like all such online outrages, the one inspired by Sophie CK’s Facebook comments only became an issue after people outside of Sophie’s immediate social media circle became aware of it. The first blog to screenshot CK’s Facebook comments and report on them appears to beTurtleboy Sports, a local-ish blog out of Worcester, Massachusetts which the InCity Times (“Worcester’s alternative newspaper) described as “poison to the community” and “a repository of all things racist, classist and community-destroying” in February 2016.
Turtleboy Sports, for its part, describes itself as “a media outlet that isn’t afraid to cover hard-hitting stories that the mainstream media shies away from …. the only media outlet that consistently gives readers the story behind the story.” When the blog started in 2013 its contributors mostly remained pseudonymous (author bylines on the site include “Turtleboy,” “Rhode Island Turtle Sista” and “South Shore Turtlegirl”), but in March 2015 Clive McFarlane, a columnist with the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, delivered a local bombshell, reporting that “Aidan Kearney, son of former Schoo Committee member Mary Mullaney, is the face behind TurtleBoy ports, a crass and craven local blog that peddles the cheap thrills that dehumanizing groups and individuals bring to some people.”
Specifically, McFarlane said that Kearney was the sole registered owner of Turtleboy Digital Marketing, which handles the monetization of the TurtleBoy Sports site.
TurtleBoy appears to be the first republishing of Sophie CK’s Facebook post after she first made it; on Oct. 14 ran a piece headlined “Lynn Coffee Shop Manager: No Coffee With A Cop Allowed Because Cops Are Slave Catching Murderers Who Shouldn’t Be Humanized.” (Five days later, after the coffeehouse had closed, TurtleBoy tweeted the news and added “Don’t poke the turtle.”)
The pro-police Blue Lives Matter blog cited TurtleBoy in its own piece announcing “White Rose Coffeehouse Manager Says Officers Don’t Need To Be Humanized, Bans ‘Coffee With A Cop,’” which ran the same day Lynn’s actual police chief Michael Mageary dismissed the controversy as a “non-story” and adding “The young lady has a right to say whatever she wants and we respect that.”