A dozen or so protesters stood outside the Blue Cat Café in East Austin on Sunday to object to what they say is gentrification exemplified by the business that took the place of a local piñata shop two years ago.
The Blue Cat Café, near the intersection of Navasota and Cesar Chavez streets, sits on the property where Jumpolin had operated for eight years until it was suddenly demolished in February 2015 on the orders of the landowners, sparking community outrage.
According to a Facebook event page to organize the protest, the demonstration was intended to “tell Austin and anyone coming into our communities that we do not accept the continued erasure of our working class black and brown neighborhoods of the east side.”
Protesters said they also wanted to discourage the planned production of a television show at the location Sunday, but film crews never appeared.
The protesters, with bandanas covering their faces, carried signs and shouted obscenities and accusations at the store’s owner, Rebecca Gray, and others inside the building. Tensions came to a boiling point almost immediately when protesters arrived and scuffled with supporters of the Blue Cat Café. One confrontation left a man bloodied, witnesses on both sides said.
At one point after Austin police arrived, officers used a stun gun during an arrest of a female protester, spurring angry shouts and slurs. Two protesters were eventually charged with aggravated assault, evading arrest and interfering, according to Austin police officials.
The tense scene outside the vegan eatery that has served as a home to more than 200 adoptable cats is a familiar one — Gray said the protesters have stood outside with their signs and chants about 30 times since the business began in October 2015.
Last October, on the anniversary of the business’s opening, workers discovered profane graffiti against “you gentrified scum” on the walls of the building, and vandals had glued the doors shut, trapping cats inside.
“I have tried to reach out to (the protesters) many times,” Gray told the American-Statesman, adding that she supported the owners of Jumpolin.
“I just wish for peaceful communication. I have tried to help everyone as much as possible, but without that, I cannot do anything,” she said.
One protester, with his face covered and wielding a megaphone, said the café benefited from the ouster of the Mexican-owned Jumpolin.
“Right now, we’re reaffirming our strenuous opposition to the white supremacists that have come (here),” he said, declining to give his name to the Statesman. “Any Chicano person seeing Jumpolin torn down like that, seeing the family out here crying, we see them as people, unlike the people who come here (to the Blue Cat Café) who just see it as another day in the movement of capitalism.”
Standing in the courtyard of the Blue Cat Café, Jack Danson watched the protesters with several of his friends. He said he’s a friend of the owner’s brother, Paul Gray, and came to the Blue Cat Café to help respond to the planned protest. He ended up in the middle of the violent fray that left one of his friends injured. The protesters accused the group in the courtyard of being white supremacists, a label that Danson rejected.
“They were dumb enough to post when they were doing this, so we got our own little group,” Danson said. “(Paul Gray) said he could use the help because the protesters have been intimidating and harassing the customers.”