Another day, another social media blowup in Portland. This week's target is Chicken & Guns, a food cart operating out of Portland's Cartopia food cart hub.
The drama started July 25th, when Portland man Jason Keebler wrote on Facebook that his friend Kevin Raysor, a black Portland State University student, was harassed by Chicken & Guns co-owner Dustin Knox while waiting for the business to open. In a post that has since been made private, Keebler wrote that Knox called the police on Raysor for "loitering."
“I was asked to leave the food court on the corner of Hawthorne for no reason," Keebler quoted Raysor as saying. "[Knox] said I was homeless and loitering... What I was doing was waiting for [Chicken & Guns] to open so I could eat before my final [exam]s.”
Soon after the post went up, people started to flood Chicken & Guns Facebook and Yelp pages with bad reviews. "I wish I could give it a negative 0," reads one review. "If the food is good but the owner a racist, the entire establishment is no good. You can take your chicken and your gun and stick it where the sun doesn't shine. I hope your business is boycotted until you go out of business. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Looser!"
"The chicken tastes like burnt hatred," reads another. "All of the food, sides included, seemed to be marinated in a deep pit of despair and bigotry. Unfortunately, the ashy taste left in my mouth means I'll never be back. And you shouldn't either. Skip the crepe cart next door too. So much racism packed into one little crepe." (The "crepe cart next door," refers to Perierra Creperie, which is also owned by Knox.)
The spreading story was picked up by Eater Portland's Brooke Jackson-Glidden, who, on July 30th, reported the story and printed additional allegations made against Knox on social media. One woman claimed that she had also witnessed Knox harassing a person of color: "Dustin started yelling at him, ‘if you don’t get out of here, I will snap your dog’s neck’,” she wrote.
After Eater's initial report, more media outlets picked it up, and the next day, Knox was put on leave from the business. The company said they will be conducting an internal investigation.
Then, two days later, Jackson-Glidden published another story, one that calls allegations of racism into question. After her initial report was published, Jackson-Glidden was contacted by Portland Police. She writes:
"Temporary Public Information Officer Peter Simpson found notes from the 911 call from Knox on Sunday, July 22, at 10:16 a.m. On the call, Knox claimed a black male wearing a khaki shirt and blue jeans was 'yelling racial slurs' and threatening to beat up a landscaper near the food cart pod." This time, Jackson-Glidden also spoke to Raysor himself, who had, according to his own telling, been waiting outside the food cart for an hour before they opened. Knox apparently approached Raysor while was watering plants out the cart:
“[Knox] said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just sitting here.’ He [then] said [again], ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Why? I’m waiting for the place to open.’ He said, ‘Well okay,’ and then walked off. Because I felt uncomfortable, I took out my phone and I took that picture. Then he said, ‘Okay you gotta leave.’”
Raysor said Knox then started to get close. Raysor continued his account:
“I said, ‘Dude, if you are going to touch me, I’m a martial arts teacher, I’m going to put on a demonstration and it’s not going to last long.’ I said ‘if you touch me, I’m going to lose it, and I’ll lose all this work I’m doing to get this Bachelor’s [degree].’”
Raysor said he had no memory of using any racial slurs, other than referring to Knox as a “white guy” and a “hick.”
“The racist thing isn’t the issue,” Raysor added. “This is Portland; you can’t get away from that. I had money to buy food, and he told me I couldn’t. That’s the thing that’s still on my mind. When I get mad, I say things, but I was sitting down quietly... Just because I have gray hair and a backpack doesn’t mean I’m homeless.”
Is Dustin Knox racist? It's possible. He didn't return my request for comment, but in Portland, these types of social media blowups—in which an accusation is alleged online, no one bothers to verify, and the story spreads and mutates and is soon taken as fact—have become a regular occurrence. There have been pile ons over a German Air Force shirt at a Jewish restaraunt, a vegan bakery that refused to serve a black customer after hours, and, perhaps most famously, the saga of the the burrito truck operators who shut down their business after being accused of appropriating Mexican culture. There are many more examples of this kind of public pile-on and the ensuing fall-out.
Andy Ngo, an independent journalist and Portland native who covers social justice movements, recently wrote about the preponderance of Portland eatery drama for the Wall Street Journal. I asked Ngo why he thinks Portland is so prone to these types of blowups: "Portland is what happens when campus victim culture affects the ethos of an entire city," Ngo said. "It's a homogeneous, progressive bubble with a white majority. That leaves it vulnerable to moral panics by those who want to exploit issues surrounding race. ... [Eateries] are easy targets to mobilize mobs against. Businesses have online presence where you can easily leave comments for others to see and respond to. It satisfies the blood-thirst of being able to see the pile on."