Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The founders of DMV Black Restaurant Week are introducing a new event series with the Metropolitan Police Department to nurture mutual respect and improve day-to-day interactions between restaurants and bars and the police. The move comes after a particularly disturbing 2018, when officers were called to intervene in situations involving African-American patrons, like at the Starbucks in Philadelphia, the Bahama Breeze in Cleveland, and even Kaliwa in D.C.

“I don’t want what’s happening in other cities to happen here,” says Andra “AJ” Johnson, a bartender and co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week who is writing a book called White Plates, Black Faces. “I want people to feel safe,” Johnson continues. “If you feel threatened, you should use the police, but there should also be an understanding of what [the police’s] capabilities are. Maybe the police can train business owners, managers, and workers to deescalate situations.”

Dubbed “Beat Banter,” the panel series kicks off on Jan. 16 with a forum geared toward hospitality industry business owners at the Community Center at The LINE DC Hotel. “The panel will offer a safe space for business owners to voice their opinions and concerns and hopefully lead to more constructive solutions for fair policing of D.C. residents across the city,” Johnson says. Future events will target bartenders and security professionals. The events are invite only for hospitality industry professionals, not the general public. 

Johnson and Tealye Long, who distributes liquor in D.C. with Chufly Imports, will moderate the panel on Jan. 16. Long’s unlikely friendship with Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham helped spur the series. Newsham will be a panelist on Jan. 16.

Long met Newsham on a plane. “He asked me what I did, I asked him what he did,” she explains. Then, she says, they had a frank discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement and talked about what MPD does to address racial biases. After exchanging information, Long followed up and Newsham arranged for her to attend MPD’s racial biases training that involves a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In a statement, MPD tells City Paper, “Our hope is that this panel discussion will foster an open dialogue between hospitality leaders, MPD, and local government officials, such as our ANC chairs, so that we can build upon our existing interactions. MPD often relies on our hospitality leaders to serve as the extra eyes and ears we need in neighborhoods, and we want to ensure that we all have the same understanding of mutual respect and safety.”

Another topic Johnson and her DMV Black Restaurant Week co-founders, Dr. Erinn Tucker and Furard Tate, hope to address is “the realization that minority-owned businesses may have very different experiences when it comes to how their businesses have been policed or protected.” Johnson says she’s considering pulling in D.C.’s new Director of Nightlife and Culture for future events.

(City Paper has separately reported on The LINE DC Hotel’s financial issues.)