Forget it, Freeman, it’s Chinatown

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘bhrome’

The violent unrest in Britain is certainly concerning, given that several of the same underlying conditions may be present in the District. Freeman Klopott of the Examiner talked with several Chinatown business owners who are concerned about a program to engage with the youth in Chinatown:

“We’ve been assured that the police department will deal with it,” said Proof owner Mark Kuller, who has decided to close the restaurant’s patio Friday night — one-third of his summer seating — rather than submit his customers to the sound and crowds he expects to come. “But it’s a mistake to have a youth engagement even in this area.”

It’s disappointing to see Klopott feeding the trolls by highlighting the overly concerned Kuller, who seems to think that the only modality of operation for young residents is rioting and violence (Please see addendum, these comments appear to be taken without context.) Given that the MPD program looks to engage with the youth to try to help defuse some of the underlying issues of disenfranchisement and alienation, it seems odd that business owners are freaking out when the police are trying to help.

When you look at the crime statistics for the area 1000 feet around the corner of 7th and G Street NW, there are six more crime incidents (an increase of 9% from 65 to 71) in the two month period from June 10th to August 9th, as compared to the same period last year.  Violent crime is up, with five incidents of assault with a dangerous (non-firearm) weapon in two months, instead of just one, but property crime remains unchanged.

This seems like fear-mongering of the worst sort from the Examiner, and a brand of cowardice bit of overconcern from Proof’s Mark Kuller than is more disappointing than anything else.

UPDATE, 6:15pm: Mark Kuller has responded directly (in full) to the characterization of the article, which he says was unfair:

The quote in the Examiner was out of context – an amalgam of soundbites from a seven minute conversation

In addition, Kuller lays out the timeline for being informed of the event, which happened the day before yesterday, which is short noticed giving the scheduling necessary for shuffling shifts of his service staff and the valet stand that Proof offers. In addition, Kuller lays out some significant concerns with the crowds:

this event was not properly executed – it should not be done as a popup with no input from those most critically affected and also without consideration of the potentially large logistical challenges – until our meeting with the mayor Tuesday there was no plan to even have any porta potties, which would seem prudent to me.

It seems that Klopott was concerned with cramming in the irresponsible parallel to the London riots, and then putting that opinion in the only business owner he could get to go on the record about the event, in Kuller.

Shame on us me for not getting the full story, and shame on Klopott for throwing a local source under the bus to write an inflammatory piece for the paper rag.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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23 thoughts on “Forget it, Freeman, it’s Chinatown

  1. II agree with Kuller. You are talking about a person’s livelihood. He had over 100 reservations on Friday. His responsibility is to his customers — not to the City’s “Youth Program.”

    I would not be secure knowing that the fine line between a crowd and a mob in front of my business is controlled by MPD.

  2. I think Kuller does have a reasonable point as far as closing the street and sticking a crowd on it with no notice- if he’d known ahead of time, he could have made some business decisions or warned customers, or whatever- BUT, he’s completely out of line to draw a comparison to the London riots.

    First of all, the London Riots started in reaction to a specific incident, the shooting of an unarmed man by police. Yes, they were made possible by disenfranchisement and lack of engagement and a bad economy and all that, but ultimately, it was a specific incident that touched them off. Secondly, they didn’t start in the immediate presence of a high population of police officers. They started, and THEN police responded. Logistically, this situation is nothing at all like London.

    The issue here should be the poor communication with business owners, not these allegedly out-of-control teenagers who supposedly don’t know how to do anything in a group but mug people.

    And since we’re talking about disaffected youth turning to crime and violence, does anything contribute to feelings of disaffection and isolation more than local business owners denouncing you and your friends in the media, painting with the same broad brush, and asserting that you are unwelcome in your own city?

  3. If your business’ windows are busted out, burnt out, or worse. The semantics of the comparison don’t mean a thing.

  4. IF that’s what you expect out of Friday’s event, which is sponsored by MPD, then I’m going to call you a fearmonger and a coward, Jeff.

  5. I want to agree with you Tom, but anyone who goes through Chinatown on a weekend night in the summer knows that it’s terrible when all the kids are out.

  6. I agree with you Tiffany. Poor communication with area businesses, but the to be honest the entire article sounds (and I hate to be the person that says this) a teensy bit racist, with a little bit of ageism and a dob of classicism on top.

  7. I would hardly call Chinatown “terrible” when the kids are out.

    Busy? Yes. Chaotic? Yes.

    But this isn’t rioting, and won’t become that unless things get far, far worse.

  8. “If your business’ windows are busted out, burnt out, or worse. The semantics of the comparison don’t mean a thing.”

    Using that logic, why doesn’t Proof close whenever there is a big game at the Verizon Center? Play off and championship games have been known to happen before rioting and looting in lots of towns.

    It is his choice to close, absolutely. The way this was handled for local businesses was subpar, as Tiffany points out. Is it unfortunate that this will make getting to the restaurant difficult? Absolutely. But the assumption that this event WILL end in violence and looting? That is short-sighted and offensive. Further, the logic of “look at London” is, well, lacking in logic.

  9. Call me what you wish. Reading your blog alone, Tom, one comes away with less than complete confidence in the MPD to protect anyone (especially, if you are a lesbian couple or ride the metro).

    The MPD cannot handle a negative situation, if it were to arise. So yes, I would be concerned.

    I don’t care about comparisons and what he should have said or not said. Was it overboard, to compare it to London? Sure. Does that make his concern not valid? No.

    My point is that Proof is HIS business. And he has the right to be angry when HIS business is put at risk without his consent. He chose to open near the Verizon center, knowing what may happen after sports events. He did not choose to have a crowd of teenagers congregating in front of his business on a busy night for a restaurant.

    Tom, I challenge you to live blog from the teen event Friday. And to prove that I have nothing to worry about, you should stay and continue to report from the neighborhood for at least two hours after the close of the event to witness the peaceful departure of all the teens. You may stand next to a police officer, if you wish.

    I want you to prove me wrong — because I am fast turning cynical about this city and the MPD.

  10. Jeff,

    If you’ll come with me, we can happily check this out together and talk about it on the blog. I’ve got work commitments until about 5, but I’m guessing this is going to be a quiet day.

  11. 1. “a teensy bit racist”” Seriously? Where is there any mention of race?

    2. I live in that area and Jeff has it spot-on. I second his challenge to Tom (and Tiffany, you can go, too).

    3. As to Tiffany’s “Disaffected youth comment” — Um, ok. I think it is probably a pretty safe bet that the youth at issue don’t spend a lot of time reading about “local business owners denouncing you and your friends in the media, painting with the same broad brush, and asserting that you are unwelcome in your own city”

    Typical “blame the victim” folderol. Yawn.

  12. No-Can-Do’s-Ville.

    The teens have taken over Gallery Place/ Chinatown. I don’t go there on Friday and Saturday night when there isn’t an overpopulation of teens.

    I make that decision because I have read, heard and witnessed numerous situations when unruly teens have caused confrontations, and thus made me feel unsafe (actually, most have been in the day time). Fortunately, MPD was/is there. Unfortunately, I have witnessed one occasion where MPD had to use a show of force to take control of the situation.

    Your headline says “Forget it, Mark, it’s Chinatown.” Very true, for what you really mean is that it is owned by the teens. Just as Adams Morgan is owned by the College Drunks (full disclosure, I was a College Drunk…but I grew up).

    So for different reasons for each neighborhood, I choose to put my personal safety first and avoid both neighborhoods when they are crowded.

    For the record, I think the event itself will be fine and positive. I worry about when the event is over and MPD starts to pack it up. Will the teens just go home? Or will they loiter?

    Meh. There will be plenty of news reporters there, I am sure. I hope you do a follow up blog on Saturday.

    The big picture/problem is that events like this one need to be without any incident if they are to have a lasting positive affect. One fight, and people (like me) will be like “See! I told you so!”

  13. My friends (group of 4) were walking a few blocks to NY & 4th St from the Verizon Center at around 11:30pm. Spring of 2010. They were jumped. The women were violently push out of the way. The two guys were beaten. One guy had has jaw broken and required reconstructive surgery.

    The reason? MPD said it was a gang-related beat down (an initiation). They also said that this type of crime happens “this time of year” — being spring/summer. They caught one or two of the perps, but many got away. The attack happened on a “side street” — I btw 5th and 6th NW.

    Senseless violence. You can call me a coward. But I think that I’m being sensible after examining the current events?

    We can’t we do this in Georgetown? Are the teens not allowed up there?

  14. You’ve missed the entire point of engagement. I’m sorry for your friends who were attacked, that’s definitely not okay. But you do engagement where the people are, Jeff. You don’t bus them out of town to engage with them. You do it where they’re already comfortable.

  15. I use the story of friends to show I’m not screaming wolf without seeing the tracks left by wolf. My point is that crap goes down in the neighborhood and MPD is powerless. Not about ageism or racism. It is about the systematic break down of law and order.

    I have not missed the point of engagement.

    My point is that it is not fair to dismiss Kuller’s concern as fear-mongering when he is simply concerned about his livelihood. I think it is more a question of NIMBYism more than fear mongering. But he has a right to be concerned.

    He has the right to protect his livelihood and I think you miss the point by not to trying to see his side of the issue.

    I believe in this blog, you have discussed the plight of DC small businesses…especially with respect to Walmart moving in. Especially how small businesses (and restaurants) find it tough to survive here with high rents and other factors.

    When your bottom line is affected by factors that may be beyond your control (like the teen event), I can sympathize that “engagement” falls low on the priority list. Let’s say that people cancel reservations Friday night to Proof just because they don’t want to deal with the situation. Can you not sympathize that that would suck for Kuller and his staff that depend on tips? Can you not see why he might be frustrated?

  16. Of course I can see why Kuller might be frustrated, the short notice is certainly frustrating to him, and he’s got legit reasons to say “hey, we needed more notice on this.”

    What he’s done, though, is to contribute to the very feelings of isolation that separate most of the alienated youth from accepting responsibility within society. There’s no seat at the bar at Proof for these kids (age limits in law aside) and this only further underscores that division for them.

    Kuller has decided that instead of being part of the community, he wants to close his doors to it, and you’re correct: that’s his right. It’s also our right as citizens to say, “Dude. Not cool.”

  17. Tom,, i have never been called a coward before nor do I understand what is  the “brand of cowardice” of which you speak. The quote in the Examiner was out of context – an amalgam of soundbites from a seven minute conversation. But let me share the facts with you.

    1. We learned of this event Tuesday morning from the DC bid. Were it not for them we likely would have known nothing till the street closings actually occurred. If we are talking engagement how about engaging the business owners who are most affected to discuss timing, location, logistics, etc., before finalizing plans.

    2. We will lose valet parking, use of our patio, and have impeded access to the restaurant on our busiest night of the week. I understand the concept of sacrifice for the greater good but in these precarious economic times I also need to worry about the well being of my business and the 40+ people who’s livelihood depends on it.

    3. I am all in favor of engaging our city’s and country’s youth in a positive manner. I did not say we should not have a youth engagement in Chinatown. We should. What i said was that this event was not properly executed – it should not be done as a popup with no input from those most critically affected and also without consideration of the potentially large logistical challenges – until our meeting with the mayor Tuesday there was no plan to even have any porta potties, which would seem prudent to me.

    4.I do not believe we will witness Friday night anything akin to what has occurred in London and, more close to home, last  weekend in Philadelphia. I said that that such violence COULD occur though I thought it highly unlikely.  I told the deputy mayor I would do everything in my power to insure a safe and productive event even at the expense of personal financial loss. And I meant that.

    5. I have personally witnessed, within earshot of Proof, stabbings, muggings, theft of valuables from diners on our 
    patio, and kids running wildly through the restaurant. Bad stuff like this comes from a very very small minority of those that gather and it is certainly not limited to kids – grownups can be far worse. It is part of life and part of doing business in a teeming urban environment. I can’t close my eyes to it, nor do I think it justifies dispersing youth congregating. My point was simple and clear. Lets engage, but lets do it in a way that takes into account the concerns of local businesses and residents, in the safest, most well thought out manner possible. That was not done here and that is what I took exception to. If that makes me a coward Tom so be it.

  18. @Mark Kuller: I appreciate your response.

    If you say that Freeman misinterpreted your comments, I’m happy to accept that as the reason for your comments, and Klopott has said that he wrote it for the newspaper audience, not the web audience, which skews a bit.

    I’m relieved to hear that you don’t believe that we’re on our way toward London- or Philadelphia-style unrest, and I’m going to add some quotes from your comment to an updated version of the story.

    I apologize for misconstruing your opinion based on what has turned out to be a badly-slanted article.

  19. I find it odd that We Love DC is uncritically accepting Kuller’s version of events. Obviously, Kuller has a right to defend himself, but it’s not unheard of for someone interviewed in a story to backtrack on what they said.

    Given that Tom Bridge wasn’t present during Klopott’s interview, this is a bit much: “Shame on Klopott for throwing a local source under the bus to write an inflammatory piece for the paper rag.”

  20. WeIII, I am not trying to backtrack nor am I trying to throw Mr. Klopott under the bus. I have no doubt that over the course of our 7 + minute conversation I uttered all of those words. I said that “holding an engagement event in Chinatown was a mistake” without input from community residents and businesses, careful consideration of the logistics, and a thorough venting of the timing and location. The reference to London was in the context of discussing Courtland Milloy’s article in Wednesday’s Post where he discussed the anarchy in London, last weekend’s flash mob outbreaks in Philadelphia, and compared recent remarks by our mayor regarding summer jobs to the comments made by Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s comments after last weekend’s outbreak. I never said such an outbreak would occur in DC, but rather that it could in the absence of proper planning. My comments were not aimed at provoking fear, nor were they motivated principally by loss of revenue. Rather, their focus was the process by which this event unfolded, or lack thereof.