When a U.S. senator is screamed at as he and his wife sit down to dinner then chased out of a restaurant by a group of angry protesters, free expression is not being exemplified, it’s being weaponized. Invading a private business to scare a person into leaving, regardless of intention, is trespassing and targeted harassment. This forceful group effort not only endangers the targeted individual, but also every staff member and patron who has nothing to do with the angry mob’s hostile gripes.
Whether they are fast food or fine dining, restaurants are not public venues in which all people are welcome. They are private businesses that specialize in hospitality. Front door security is generally not present, as that negates a warm, inviting tone.
Many restaurants pride themselves on protecting their patrons’ identities while they dine in their establishment. Most restaurant employees are trained to divert the curiosity of star-struck diners when a high-profile person is spotted at a neighboring table. However, most employees are not trained to physically block trespassers from barging through the dining room and screaming at a guest. They aren’t trained for this because, until recently, it was a very uncommon occurrence.
On Monday night, Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife were forced to leave a popular DC restaurant after a mob of people followed him in and confronted the couple, loudly, after they were led to their table. The senator had barely removed his coat before he decided it wasn’t safe for him to stay.
In the video, the restaurant staff deftly came to the Cruzes’ aid, as well as they were equipped to do under the circumstances. The manager can be heard repeatedly, sternly telling the angry mob to leave the premises, that they were on private property.
But the mob had already won. Cruz and his wife left, and the mob knew they’d be long gone before anyone had a chance to call the cops. With a final bellow of “Ted Cruz and Brett Kavanaugh are best friends!” the protestors vanished into the dark night.
The angry mob may have been misguided enough to think they were just expressing free speech, that they were being socially active, but pushing into an establishment, trespassing, and loudly screaming expletives evokes a particular emotional reaction from a room full of disrupted people: fear. The mob entered that restaurant to maliciously disrupt any feeling of normalcy and safety for the senator, and in so doing robbed every person there of her own sense of calm and security.
Each person working or dining that night likely thought, if only for a moment, that their life could be in danger. Adrenaline certainly got many hearts beating faster as they all witnessed the agitation against Cruz. Several onlookers, and the protestors themselves, took photos and videos. The identity of the restaurant quickly leaked over social media while many staff and diners were still in the building, which left them all at greater risk than when they walked in.
The lack of armed front-door security certainly makes a high-end establishment more inviting, but a public incident like this leaves a restaurant exposed to further harassment and threats. Restaurants are in the habit of protecting their guests’ identities not only for the sake of those guests but for the safety and security of everyone else there.
Trespassing is a crime in the United States because Americans still have the right to decide how to use their private property, and to be free of criminal force and threats. When people report to work, or go to a restaurant for dinner, they should not feel that they are in danger, regardless of whether they are an employee, a high-profile person, or just someone who happens to be dining near a senator.
Behaving like this treats restaurants as though they are public, as though they offer free and open access to anyone to come in and harass whomever they please. While harassing a public official endangers that individual, trespassing in order to do so also endangers everyone around.
In June, Rep. Maxine Waters encouraged her supporters to trespass in order to harass members of President Trump’s cabinet: “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
Obviously, people have taken her ludicrous, dangerous advice to break the law, and are now freely harassing anyone whose opinion contradicts their own. Yet restaurants are not a public arena for shrieking protestors to invade in the name of targeted harassment. They are real businesses, full of vulnerable people, that can be damaged by the negative attention brought on by the cheap spectacle of protest theater.
In the name of common decency toward businesses and their employees, this trend must stop.