Pride weekend festivities took a scary turn when a guy with a machete threatened a patron at Shaw’s Tavern, at 6th and Florida Ave., NW, around 3 PM on Saturday. According to a police report, the aggressor called the customer anti-gay slurs, flung cicadas at him as he ate, and told him “I’ll silence you” while wielding his blade. Authorities have since arrested a 13-year-old male and charged him with assault involving a dangerous weapon. The incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime.
Shaw’s Tavern co-owner Eric Heidenberger says he’s been in touch with the victim and “he’s doing OK—obviously, he’s a little startled.” Fortunately, no one was physically injured. But the incident is just the latest in a series of juvenile crimes targeting restaurant patrons and staff in one quickly gentrifying pocket of Shaw.
Over the past four or so months, Heidenberger says problems with unruly teens have escalated to a near weekly occurrence. The kids have unscrewed lightbulbs and throw them at patrons. Other times, they’ve tossed rocks or glasses of water at diners. Some of the troublemakers have walked in through windows and started verbal fights with people eating on the patio. Even if the police are called, the kids will sometimes return after an hour after they’ve gone. On occasion, Shaw’s Tavern has had to close its patio to avoid altercations, “which is tough, especially after the year we just had where businesses are having to close or alter operations.” Heidenberger is also an owner in bars and restaurants in Mt. Vernon Triangle and Dupont Circle but “nothing is as bad as it is right now in Shaw.”
“MPD has recommended that we call them as soon as possible but a lot of these things happen so quickly that if there’s a gap of a couple minutes, that’s our staff having to try to de-escalate some of these situations,” Heidenberger. “It puts our team in a tough position. As business operators, what matters most to us is the safety of our customers and our staff, and they don’t feel that right now.”
At nearby Korean barbecue restaurant Gogi Yogi, owner Daniel Kramer has dealt with kids throwing eggs at his windows. Some have demanded to use the restrooms, then assaulted staff who told them they were for customers only. Then on Sunday—a day after the machete incident—a stray bullet went through the transom above the restaurant’s front door during prime dinner hours. Kramer decided to close his business for the rest of the evening and all Monday. Heidenberger says he also closed his nearby restaurant 801 for the night because of the shooting.
Kramer says the incidents are all part of a larger trend in the neighborhood: “There’s a culture that has developed there of lawlessness and criminality that has not been sufficiently deterred by the powers that be,” Kramer says. “It starts with smaller things like riding dirt bikes without any regard for traffic laws, and it continues with open container and open air drug market at 7th and T. You just have a cascading level of crimes, and it keeps growing. Then you have assaults. Then you have thefts of property. This is where we are.”
Heidenberger and Kramer are among several nearby business owners who’ve been talking with MPD, DC Councilmembers, and youth outreach groups about trying to address the incidents. Shaw Main Streets Executive Director Alexander Padro says the group recently had a call with Uniting Our Youth, a non-profit that provides support programs for inner city youth and partners with two public housing sites in the neighborhood.
“They were actively engaged in trying to reach out to the youth that were involved—because it’s not like they are not known—but they had limited resources in terms of being able to actually do programming,” Padro says. In response, several Shaw businesses agreed to provide financial and in-kind assistance. Meanwhile, Heidenberger started his own non-profit several months ago called Hope for Youth DC that aims to galvanize restaurants to raise money and donate food and supplies for programs that similarly provide opportunities for young people.
“We’ve been trying to go about this in the most diplomatic, constructive way. This isn’t simply just an MPD issue. This is something that needs to get attention from top to bottom,” Heidenberger says. “We’re very sensitive to that fact that it is juveniles. We can’t put young kids into jail and expect that to fix the problem…What happens after that?”
Meanwhile, MPD says its Third District patrol has increased its presence in Shaw, including in the areas of recent crimes, and officers have been assigned foot beats in the area to engage with residents and business owners on a daily basis. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration also has a program that subsidizes the cost of off-duty police officers to help with security at nightlife establishments. Just a couple weeks ago, Padro says the DC liquor board granted Shaw Main Streets authorization to coordinate the deployment of these officers, beginning July 1.
For now, Gogi Yogi’s Kramer has taken matters into his own hands and hired his own private security seven days a week and off-duty MPD officers twice a week.
“There’s been a lot of talk lately, and the problem keeps getting worse,” Kramer says. “The District of Columbia needs to decide if they want this to be the new normal.”
This story has been updated with comment for MPD.