It’s a sad fact that, with the incidence of mass shootings in public places, communities need to find an appropriate way to commemorate their fallen. How will the community come together in the aftermath?
The answer to that question has everything to do with civic identity, since it’s the community itself that’s been violated. In South Tacoma, on November 9th, 2009, four members of the Lakewood PD were gunned down—while in a coffee shop, at their laptops, waiting for their shift to begin—by a convicted felon and recidivist out on bail, with a Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol. This was the bloodiest incident in a string of armed confrontations with officers throughout the state (and statistically the largest attack on law enforcement since an Oakland, California, shooting in March of that year) and it prompted a manhunt that resulted in the death of the main perpetrator and sentencing for his accomplices.
“We were a franchise when it happened,” says BlueSteele Coffee & Cafe co-owner Courtney Marshall. “The name was Forza Coffee Company.”
Our shop reopened on December 14th, 2009 two weeks after the shooting, and was still called Forza. We had a line that went on for blocks when we reopened. The community and officers were so supportive. They waited for over four hours to get their coffee and show support. We’re especially close to the Lakewood Police Department. I knew all four of the officers killed, and it was difficult because they weren’t just customers but friends. It felt like we needed to fight back and not let evil win. That’s why I felt it was important to open back up.
The previous owner, a hands-off manager who wanted out, sold the shop to us—my husband Oliver and myself—in 2010. I had been the manager since the shop opened in 2007, and was very involved. It was just a coffee shop. We went independent on June 1, 2012, when our franchise expired and they doubled the royalties. Since then we’ve added a small café where we make our own flatbread pizzas, salads, and sandwiches. The food is amazing and at very reasonable rates, all made fresh to order and in-house. Our drink quality is excellent. Latte art is a standard. We also make our own Masala Chai and Madagascar Vanilla syrup.
When we went independent it seemed appropriate that we honor the four fallen officers. The shop was an important place to the community and law enforcement. We’re on Steele Street, so “BlueSteele” stuck and seemed fitting for our location and also would honor what had happened.
One of my friends who’s a Lakewood Police officer described our shop as a Mecca for law enforcement and first responders. First responders from all over come and pay tribute and show their support. Local law enforcement is a tight-knit group who take care of each other; we became part of that group. They really want to support us and to pay tribute to those fallen. We’ve had officers visit from all over; different states, Canada, and the Border Patrol. The officers’ widows and families feel that our shop isn’t a negative place, but a place to honor the sacrifice and celebrate their fallen family members. We have a small memorial out front that has four flags, and a small garden and plaque.
Every year we host a concert for remembrance, free to the public, in their honor. We only ask that people donate food or money to the emergency food drive that the Lakewood PD and widows’ families do each year.
Our shop is more than your local café. Customer loyalty; they’re like family. We take the time to really get to know their names, drinks, and everything about them. We have a friendly barista who really cares.
It’s a place where evil struck and the community came together to fight back and reclaimed their ground. Our customers know one another because it’s their shop, not ours. We feel we offer a place for people to gather and come together in a part of town that doesn’t have a whole lot of strong community involvement.
The BlueSteele Coffee Co. & Café: 110401 Steele Street South, Tacoma, WA 98444
BlueSteele Coffee has also been collecting donations in support of families affected by the Oso mudslide.
P.S.: Tacoma.com received an update from Ms. Marshall: Not sure if I mentioned it earlier, but each year we do a “Fallen Officer’s Memorial Scholarship,” that goes to a Washington High School student interested in a career in law enforcement, or as a first responder. The award will be given again this May.
Facebook: The Thin Blue Line, The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), and In memory and support of the slain Lakewood police officers