A businessman who opened his coffee shop seven weeks ago in West Oakland has been vandalized twice since pouring his first cup of joe.
And he fears he's being unfairly targeted by people who are decrying "gentrification" and getting their message across, in part, through posters that resemble WWII-era propaganda art depicting clawed fingers tearing the city of Oakland to shreds.
Ethan Ashley doesn't have proof of who the threw rocks that broke five of Kilovolt Coffee's windows, who wrote "Eat S--- and Die Yuppie" on the wall, or who poured glue in the locks and threw concrete through the windows of his shop on Mandela Parkway.
But he does know that the vandalism has occurred twice -- two days after he opened in April and again on Thursday -- in the midst of the so-called "West Oakland Specific Plan," an effort to spur new housing and commercial development in the neighborhood through zoning changes.
The East Bay Express was the first to report the story, also noting that on Thursday night, the Oakland Planning Commission approved a controversial redevelopment plan that has been in the works for years and sparked protests about gentrification. Ashley believes the vote and the attacks on his new coffee shop are connected.
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Ashley said he has reviewed surveillance video of the vandalism, which shows masked people dressed in black throwing concrete at his shop sometime about 1 a.m. Thursday. He posted a bit of the video on Instagram, titling it, "Haters strike in the night."
Ashley said he put his life savings into the once-abandoned building and turned it into a place that both employs people and serves coffee lovers with a cup of signature "EXXpresso" and a Honey and Banana sandwich. He also can't figure out why he's under attack: He says he is certainly not in the "1 percent."
"I'm not in this business to make money," Ashley said Friday. "I'm doing this to improve the neighborhood I live in. I'm not a Starbucks. I'm not a JP Morgan Chase."
Ashley attended the planning commission meeting, which the East Bay Express noted involved some "heated protests." Meanwhile, protesters were passing out flyers that said "Spread the struggle against gentrification," and later stated, "Fight back. Make snitch neighbors feel unwelcome. Support folks facing eviction. Vandalize developments and gentrifying businesses."
One of those posters was put out by a group called Fireworks Bay Area, a self-described "Anarchist Counterinformation Project for the Bay Area."
The group, @FireworksBay, tweeted out that they were organizing a "March Against #Gentrification" in West Oakland, picturing an old man's clawed hands with sharp nails, ripping into an Oakland map. The man has a knife through his hand and he is wearing a watch with a dollar sign. They also tweeted out the East Bay Express story about Kilovolt being vandalized.
Ashley told the paper the artwork appeared to be a "bizarre ripoff" of a Nazi propaganda poster. It's unclear why the particular artwork was chosen. Historically, anarchists and Nazi sympathizers have been mortal enemies.
On the "About" section on Fireworks website, it states it is an "anarchist newspaper that aims to cultivate revolutionary solidarity and communication in the Bay among full-fledged rebels, closet antagonists, old-school revolutionaries and budding insurgents," which is "directed at anyone who opposes capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy." The group harkens back to living on "native land" that was stolen by the "Spanish conquistadors" and "this legacy of colonization continues today through rampant gentrification and the constant occupation of our neighborhoods by the police."
No one from Fireworks responded for comment to the East Bay Express or NBC Bay Area through the website's contact form. However, the group did post the East Bay Express story prominently on its website.
Around the corner, a neighbor Cara Key, said she didn't realize Ashley had taken over a vacant building, but said, in general, she feels "threatened" by "hippies" and "yuppies" who can afford a $3 coffee.
As for Ashley, it doesn't seem like rocks and spraypaint are going to deter him. On Friday, he posted a photo saying that his shop is "Here 2 Stay."