Kansas City Strip

Follow that story: As soon as last week’s issue of the Pitch hit the streets, our phones started ringing with tipsters calling from Crown Center to report that Hallmark goons — actually, women dressed in business suits — were confiscating bundles of our newspapers. Apparently Hallmark was not pleased with staff writer Allie Johnson‘s cover story about deplorable working conditions at a Mexican factory that produces Hallmark gift bags, and the Mexican workers’ futile attempts to convince Hallmark to press for improvements at the plant (“Not in the Cards,” August 17; it’s on the Web at www.pitch.com).

One witness describes the three culprits as “probably in their 30s or 40s, secretary-looking types, in business attire. They had their Hallmark tags, their ID.” (Our informant is an employee of a Crown Center restaurant, whose boss is understandably fearful of letting us print the employee’s name.) “I thought it was pretty odd because they were all struggling with these stacks and stacks of papers. I didn’t think they were restocking them, because they didn’t look like they could handle all that weight.”

“We thought, ‘Well, let’s go find out why they’re taking them,'” says another witness. “So I ran out and I yelled, ‘Hey! Hey!’ and I was like, ‘Why are you guys taking the papers?’ and she said, ‘Because we were told to confiscate them.’ They were very professional in appearance.”

Depending on the profession, that is. Professional Pitch distributors use dollies and would never be so silly as to dress in “business attire”; fresh ink doesn’t exactly go with Hallmark pink. (“We wear black Pitch T-shirts and usually shorts or jeans that are grimy, tassled, ripped in some places,” says circulation director Chris Dulin.)

The manager of another restaurant in the Hallmark compound describes “three ladies that just came in and went straight to the Pitch rack. I asked them if they worked for the Pitch. One of the girls nodded and so I assumed that they did. She took them and I saw her go to the restaurant across the hall, and they took those too.”

But Pitch employees put papers in the racks.

Would Hallmark truly be so arrogant as to assume it could suppress the truth about its international business practices? More important, are its strong-arm women dumb enough to tell people they’d been sent to confiscate the papers?

“Not only did we not encourage our employees to take the action in question, nor would we,” says Steve Doyle, Hallmark’s senior vice president of public affairs and communications. After PitchWeekly called Hallmark last Thursday with a cease-and-desist warning, Doyle says, “To make certain that no one was doing independent work we alerted our human resources managers and reminded them that that would be inappropriate activity. We didn’t call for the action. We didn’t ask people to do that. We wouldn’t ask people to do that.”

Doyle is too polite, however, to call our informants liars. “The question here is whether people were instructed to do something or whether someone did something,” he says. “I’m not calling into question what people told you. I’m telling you we did not instruct people to do that nor would we. I hope that you understand that the assurance is genuine.”

As genuine, at least, as a Hallmark card.

Bad cop, no scone: Hallmark wasn’t the only local institution putting the screws to us after last week’s issue. Pitcher Bruce Rodgers, who wrote about the obviously racist weekend police sweeps of Westport (“Saturday Night Special”), received this very professional-sounding voice-mail bon mot at 5:45 last Thursday morning: “You’re an idiot. You are an idiot. That article you wrote about Westport — you are a moron. How about if we just don’t go down there? I’m a cop and I work down there every weekend. You call it a racist issue — it is a race issue. Why don’t you just gather up your facts: Wherever young black youths gather, there is a need for a large police presence. Most of the time it’s not with white people. Go look: When they went to Jimmy’s on Prospect, when they went to Kamikaze’s out on Troost. When they went to Bodyworks. Wherever they go, there has to be a large police presence or there will be problems. You are a moron. Where did you get your degree from, Penn Valley? Or the back of a matchbook cover? You’re a joke.”

Kansas City Police Department media relations officer Steve Young says those are “not the opinions taken by the police department, and we don’t even know who it was or if indeed it was a police officer. That’s certainly not the way the police department views it. We tend to have problems whenever youths of any race or color gather in large numbers, and we always deal with them accordingly.”

Would that include scoping out the muffins?

A couple of days after the story ran, Kip Ludwigs, who had recently been arrested on a Saturday night in Westport (she’s still not sure exactly why, but it had to do with not walking across a parking lot) and whose picture ran along with the story, says she was working at a Westport coffee shop when a plainclothes officer paid her a visit.

“He was asking way too many questions about pastries that just didn’t make sense,” she remembers. “He didn’t seem as if he was quite right. As he was paying for his coffee he said, ‘So, how do you like the heat?'”

Ludwigs says the man didn’t identify himself as a police officer, “but later he answered his phone and identified himself as Officer So-and-So.”

She wasn’t intimidated, though. “I was just surprised more than anything that someone would take the time to make a comment to me. He hadn’t been in the coffee shop before, obviously, since he was asking so many questions about muffins and scones.”

Maybe the officer just wanted a place to put up a flier warning coffeeshop patrons about the dangers of alcohol. PitchWeekly has received a special bulletin saying that the police department and state liquor control agents plan to target underage drinkers and arrest vendors caught selling alcohol to minors at the Spirit Fest, September 1 through 3. The agents plan to cite drinkers between 17 and 20 and escort them from the park; they’ll detain those 16 and under before sending them to a downtown juvenile facility (unless they need to go to a hospital instead). Juveniles will then be released on their parents’ or guardians’ signatures.

We have no word, however, on how the cops plan to deal with all of those obnoxiously inebriated adults at the Spirit Fest.

Categories: News