Millions of people have seen the video of an angry woman throwing coffee on a Latino worker she confronts in the parking garage of her expensive condominium building in Century City. Later, a man comes out and accuses the worker – his white shirt stained by the drink – of being a thief, tells him to go away, and as the confrontation develops, calls him a “wetback.”
Another resident in the condo building had hired the workers to do some labor for him there on Aug. 4. Miguel Sanchez, the victim of the attack, had the owner’s keys and garage remote.
Sanchez has said the woman didn’t want him and his co-worker — identified only as Jesse — to come inside the building because she didn’t believe they had the authority to be there.
He decided to record the altercation after Rhonda Michelle Polon called both workers “Mexican wetbacks.”
“There’s a lady being super racist and crazy right now,” Sanchez says in the recording. “A guy hired us to come over here and work… we work in construction.”
He tries to reason with her, but to no avail. A few moments later, an infuriated Polon tosses her cup of hot coffee at him.
“Get out of my f**king face,” Polon yells out as she flings the coffee on Sanchez. “I told you eight times to get out of my face.”
Then another man wearing a bathrobe appears on the scene and claims to be the owner of the building, and continues the barrage against the workers.
“You guys just stole my motherf**king bike, bro. You want to f**k with me, I’ll knock you the f**k out, b***h. I don’t give a f**k, bro,” the man, who later calls Jesse a “wetback,” says.
As the video of the confrontation spread through social media and the mass media, and different groups called for a boycott of her business, a tearful Polon who owns a West Hollywood fitness studio gave several interviews to different websites and KTLA-Channel 5 where she denied accusations that she was a racist and stressed that the coffee she threw on Sanchez was actually cold.
“I threw cold coffee on him after 45 minutes of [being] harassed by them. I was then scared and did not know what else to do,” Polon told the website Latino Rebels. “I had nothing to do with the argument that insued [sic] afterwards with the other persons involved.”
Dialogue Instead of Protest
As views of the incident spread like wildfire through social media, so did the nicknames attached to the woman and man caught on the cell phone video acting in a discriminatory and racist way: #CoffeeCathy and #BathrobeBilly.
This is obviously not the only racist episode caught on a cellphone camera that is shared through the Internet, disseminating rapidly and widening the net of outrage from those who view it. But while this particular incident has been widely repudiated, it has not generated the expected protests that often end up in shoving, shouting matches between opposing groups.
Instead, it has turned into a lesson in creative activism.
March and Rally Los Angeles, the group supporting Sanchez, has conducted two demonstrations since the incident.
The first one was held Aug. 11 near the condo building where the altercation took place. The event was called the “Café y Pan Dulce Mariachi Party,” and it actually had all of those elements.
There was a mariachi group serenading the crowd. The activists served coffee and pan dulce (sweet bread) to passersby, and even some of Polon’s neighbors.
Another “party” was held Aug. 18, this time in front of LAX Compassionate Care, a cannabis shop in Los Angeles apparently owned by Adam J. Coulter (aka #BathrobeBilly).
This latest demonstration was shared on Facebook Live, to the chagrin of those caught in the crosshairs of the social media shaming and applauded by the ones supporting the worker.
Again there was music, a food truck and a festive, calm demonstration.
Helga Rodriguez of March and Rally Los Angeles told the San Fernando Valley Sun/ El Sol that it is all part of a tactic to counteract racism and discrimination with dialogue. To teach rather than preach, to respond to negativity with positivity.
She said “a lot of neighbors came out” to the first demonstration, and “they were very surprised he (Sanchez) was treated that way.”
Rodriguez said the peaceful event allowed them to have a conversation about racism, rather than a confrontation.
“We want them to acknowledge that’s not right,” Rodriguez said.
“The reaction, we didn’t want it to be negative. We wanted to share our anger in a more positive way.”
“Confrontation begets more confrontation”
Rodriguez is emphatic that they don’t condone the actions of #CoffeeCathy and #BathrobeBilly. But, she says, in these days where racial divisions seem to be deeper than they have been in decades, the last thing they want to do is contribute to that chasm.
“Confrontation begets more confrontation,” she said. “It’s exhausting to always have people be angry and shouting at each other.”
While these types of demonstrations have stopped for the meantime, the controversy over the incident is not over.
Los Angeles police eventually showed up on the scene of the altercation, but Sanchez declined to press charges then out of fear it would cause employment problems for him.
That may be about to change. Rodriguez said Polon has called Sanchez’s phone and “actually went after his wife and children,” which has changed his mind.
Sanchez is now considering pressing charges against her for what he considers threats against his family.