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After the brawl: Watching over the McDonald's

This is one in a series of pieces that will appear on Story Lab Wednesday based on reporting by seven Washington Post staff writers who spent Tuesday night in Washington's East End, taking in the scene in the aftermath of last Friday's brawl in the Metro system, talking to the teens who have taken to hanging out in the city's new tourism and entertainment district, as well as to police, residents, tourists, and business owners. Reporter Ian Shapira spent the evening visiting businesses all along Seventh Street NW:

Spencer Johnson, the security guard at the McDonald's next to the Verizon Center, always has two things when he goes to work: a comfortable stool placed at the restaurant's entrance and a .38 special holstered on his right hip.

Tuesday night at about 7:30 p.m., Johnson seemed almost invisible to the young crowds streaming into the restaurant for sodas and burgers. But the young crews were hardly invisible to him. Peering through his dark sunglasses, Johnson, a 21-year veteran of the D.C. National Guard and Army, monitored the inside and outside of his McDonald's like a military commander awaiting insurgents.

This is no ordinary McDonald's, according to Johnson, who works noon to midnight most days, and noon all the way to 4 a.m. on weekends. The eatery on 7th Street NW has been the hub of gang tussles and milder teen fights in Gallery Place at least since he began his job in early 2009; Johnson said he has pushed most of the raucousness just outside the restaurant, but sometimes the fights spill inside.

Employees at other businesses along the 7th Street corridor between Penn Quarter and Chinatown said they also routinely see minor fights or thefts involving young people.

Tom Hughes, owner and manager of the Smoothie King and Häagen Dazs shops next to the Regal cineplex, said he sees some kids stealing snacks, especially when he leaves the doors open in nice weather. Just up the block, Charles Cook, a security guard at Urban Outfitters, says in his one month on the job, kids have been caught stealing sunglasses and small jewelry; he has also watched packs of kids -- ages 13 or 14 -- roaming up and down 7th Street NW, picking fights, or riding their bicycles while tossing objects and expletives at strangers.

And at Clyde's restaurant, two hostesses -- who declined to give their names for fear of violating their company's policies -- said the unaccompanied teens impose a threatening vibe. "They shout at people and intimidate them. They block the doors to get in here," said one Clyde's hostess.

Back at the McDonald's, Johnson, the security guard, worries how long he can maintain order.

"You know, it's pandemonium. It's ugly," said Johnson, dressed in his all-black Abraham Security and Training Services uniform. "When I came down to this store, it was gang members' headquarters: E Street Bangers. Uptown mob. Lynch mob," he said, naming some of the crews that have dominated D.C. police and school officials' concerns about youth violence for many years.

Life inside his McDonald's has stabilized, but uprisings occasionally flare up. The gangs come from Anacostia, parts of Maryland, Arlington and Alexandria. There are gay gangs and there are lesbian gangs, he said.

Johnson, accustomed to frequent mockery from teens, is hardly reluctant to lob his own threats. "I follow them into the bathroom and if I catch them (making graffiti), I'll lock them up and break their hand," he said. "I've been called every name in the book -- Rent-a-Cop, M.F., the B-word. I've gotten death threats."

As he sat on his stool, Johnson said he has never figured out why so many crews pick on each other. He just knows the familiar sequences: Clumps of seven or eight familiar-looking teens purposely bump into each other. They hit each other. They knock each other out. Even when they line up for food in the restaurant, "they talk about violence," he said.

He sees smaller stuff, too, like young people stealing sodas or tourists' wallets. He combats his jaded feelings with a dose of compassion. Johnson speaks with them and learns about their lives. "Many of them come from broken families. So, I tell them to get their life together, go to school, play sports, stop the violence," he said. "Some of them listen."

Taking a short break from his stool, Johnson walked to the back of McDonald's and peered into the bathroom. He looked at the mirror. It was scratched up in illegible graffiti. Asked what the markings stood for, Johnson smirked, and headed back to his stool without offering an answer. He hadn't yet deciphered the codes.

By Ian Shapira  | August 11, 2010; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story, Local Life, coffee house newsroom  
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Next: After the brawl: "It's like an addiction to come down here."


That guy has a rough job.

Posted by: ericroks | August 11, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Whatever this guy gets paid, its not enough.

Posted by: Redial1 | August 11, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"I'll lock them up and break their hand," ! There goes that guys job and now McDonald's is gonna have to pay out a bunch!

Posted by: ChillAboutMilitaryHummers | August 11, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Chinatown/Gallery Place was a great area to the thugs are ruining it so it will become just like the crappy 'hoods they come from.

Posted by: DecafDrinker | August 11, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Think of the cost to a small business for maintaining security and you'll see one of several major reasons why relatively few want to open in DC. And remember Gallery Place is one of the nicer parts of town.

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | August 11, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

To DECAFDRINKER, these are no where near thugs, the real thugs of DC are located about 6 blocks from downtown, its called the Capital.

Anyhow, these are little coward groups of kids, all DC has to do is make a strong presents, and it will settle down.

Life in the City, thats all. Quit w/the insults.

Posted by: weaverf | August 11, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I go to Verizon Center about 30-40 times a year for Caps and Wizards games and concerts. I've never been harrassed before or after one of these events. The two times that I have gone to Gallery Place (once to see a movie, once to meet friends) without a major event being held at Verizon, I was shouted at and confronted multiple times by kids. These kids are all about acting tough when they have numbers behind them. There isn't much I can do when I'm on a date and yelled at by 10+ brats on the street. The easy answer for me is I don't go down there if I don't have to.

Posted by: rlusby49 | August 11, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Why don't we hear about gangs of white kids doing the same thing, anywhere???

It must be because all of the white kids are rich.

Posted by: TooManyPeople | August 11, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Again, leadership in this city (i.e. city council) is pathetic. What is the upside on having roving packs of teens robbing and beating people...people who are spending money and providing revenue for the city? If common sense prevailed, the curfew would be 9pm and a greater police presence would be out enforcing it.

Posted by: 123cartoon | August 11, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

WP is really milking this story for more than it's worth..."A Series" give me a break.

They're just a bunch of young kids without guidance looking for attention, End of story!

Posted by: uptownstars2208 | August 11, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Punks. This guy should be paid $100,000. Or give him a gun with free-fire zone status.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 11, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

And another thing...stop sensationalizing stupidty...what do you think these kids will do when they see all the attention that their "metro brawl" has created.
That's more recognition and fame than most of them will ever see in their lifetime! You're just giving them incentive to do it again...idiots.

Posted by: uptownstars2208 | August 11, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

@123Cartoon....what would an earlier curfew do besides push the brawl up to 9pm instead of 11pm?

Stupidity at it's finest.

Posted by: uptownstars2208 | August 11, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

uptownstars2208...forget your meds today? You seem off.

Posted by: 123cartoon | August 11, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I love the WaPo euphemism: "young people." As if they don't have a more common identity. I have yet to be accosted in this city by Asian, toddlers (well, almost), and, yes, Caucasian "young people."

Posted by: williamhuxtan | August 11, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Why don't we hear about gangs of white kids doing the same thing, anywhere???

It must be because all of the white kids are rich.

Posted by: TooManyPeople

What a load of stupid nonsense!

Everyone knows the most dangerous people around are bored young white male underachievers with too much alcohol in their systems and too much time on their hands. They are ones who decide commiting a hate crime, raping a girl, stealing a car, trashing a house, or torching a building just might be a little fun.

I grew up in the black section of Kansas City; later I lived in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the South Bronx - all poor black neighborhoods that were considered "ghettos".

I was NEVER a victim of a crime until I moved to a mostly-white upper middle class suburb of Houston. By the time I was there 6 months, gangs of white kids had broken into my house while I was on travel, partied, and took things. I was lucky they didn't trash the place.

Eventually, a girl was raped at one of those parties. Her brother, taking it upon himself to "protect her honor", shot and killed one of the young men responsible. Served him right.

No gangs of white kids causing trouble? I beg your pardon.

Posted by: ceefer66 | August 11, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

@ TooManyPeople

"Why don't we hear about gangs of white kids doing the same thing, anywhere???

It must be because all of the white kids are rich."

You CAN'T be serious.

You've never heard of Littleton, Colorado and the Trench Coat Mafia?

Posted by: ceefer66 | August 11, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

What does it say about these punks that a MacDonalds needs a security guard? What a society.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 11, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Since when is Gallery Pl known as "East End?" I am tired of media outlets creating neighborhoods as they please.

Posted by: MACCHAMPS04 | August 11, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Actively breeding, multi-generation welfare moms and their spawn must be strongly encouraged to leave the City. Cut all benefits to the federally-mandated minimums.

Encourage a repopulation of DC with responsible, employed people no matter what their race, religion, or ethnicity.

Posted by: wagtdn | August 11, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

This is not just a Gallery Place phenomenon. This goes on at malls and street corners when a lot of teens congregate and the gang element gets involved. These are teens from the DC Metro area, not just DC. Similar problems occur in Virginia and Maryland. This one just happened to be in DC. It could have happened in MD or VA just as easily. There is generally a visible police presence on 7th Street and the Gallery Place area on weekends, so that may be why the fight happened in the Metro system.

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | August 11, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

They're just a bunch of young kids without guidance looking for attention, End of story!

Posted by: uptownstars2208 | August 11, 2010 1:41 PM


Posted by: 4thFloor | August 11, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Before they close Guantanamo Bay, they should really consider an alternative use. How many punk wannabees could the Mayor fit down there I wonder? Plenty!!!!! And why won't this site let me delete the second "use" in teh edit section? WTF?

Posted by: hogfarmer55 | August 11, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Parental accountability and mandatory ENFORCED earlier curfew. Socializing at night is a privilege to be taken away when abused. These are not adults.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | August 11, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Our sanctuaries policies that protect minors are being abused by corrupt teens to mock the law and to get away with crime. These teens know that will only face couple of days of stay at a youth center for their crime and record show that even in serious crimes like homicide their punishment ends once they reach 18th birthday with no criminal history unless they are charged as adult. We need three strike type of laws in DC area as well.

Posted by: Jim110 | August 11, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Its a great area but I stay away because of the teen problem. DC is too easy on teens. They are very RUDE, direspectful, ignorant, trashy and an embarrassment. I wasnt surprised by the METRO brawl. Riding metro with teens is as bad as going to Gallery Place. Dangerous and out of control. The DC Police and Metro need to treat them as criminals to mimic their behaviors. Its just out of control. Fenty you want to clean up something other than dog parks, start with Chinatown. They act like hood rats so lock their asses up.....

Posted by: basketsbydiane | August 11, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Get real tough on them , let them know you mean business,''' Adrian Fenty''', at Nat Harbour you don't have that problem'''''''

Posted by: DROMANVIBES | August 11, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

"Everyone knows the most dangerous people around are bored young white male underachievers with too much alcohol in their systems and too much time on their hands. They are ones who decide commiting a hate crime, raping a girl, stealing a car, trashing a house, or torching a building just might be a little fun."

Seriously ceefer66, take a crime statistics class. You will quickly learn......

Posted by: DCer10 | August 11, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"Think of the cost to a small business for maintaining security and you'll see one of several major reasons why relatively few want to open in DC. And remember Gallery Place is one of the nicer parts of town."

This isn't one of the nicer parts of town; it's simply one of the busiest. I almost never go to the 7th Street area or Gallery Place development simply because there's too many kids (and I'm 24, so that should say something). I will, however, patronize the businesses along H Street. The good thing is that this type of behavior is confined to basically one block of businesses. The bad thing is that, while MPD does have a strong presence in the neighborhood, it's not aggressive enough. I believe that is what the point of this Post "series" is--to bring attention to this situation and problem and bring about change.

Posted by: crzytwnman | August 11, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and by the way, businesses are actually FIGHTING to open in DC. Perhaps not so much in Gallery Place anymore, but everywhere else. Literally fighting to get in.

Posted by: crzytwnman | August 11, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

The primary reason you get these kids doing criminal activity, not just downtown but all over the city, is that they know they won't be arrested and if they are they will be released within a few hours. If you know that no matter what you do you will not go to jail then there is no incentive for you to behave.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | August 11, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

This mostly is the fault of the Court's and the DC Police, these teen's know that they will be released because of their age, the law should be changed, to punishment should fit the crime no matter what the age, the teen's know better ,and they understand that nothing serious will happen to them because of their age. And it's not the fault of the parent, some parent's have no idea the kind of crime thier kid's are doing, the DC Council and the court's should get it togerther because it's only going to get worse. We just keep talking, put them in jail, No probation let them realize that the law will put them in jail, and the public should not have to suffer, we want to go out and enjoy ourselves with family and friend's,the store owner's are losing business because people NOT wanting to come out because of these criminal's, they are just a step away from major crime's, it's in them to the bone.

Posted by: onesugar | August 11, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

YO YO YO East End Gallery Place for Life! Word!

Posted by: tristesse27 | August 11, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

We should load all the teens onto to military planes and dump them over the ocean, like Argentina did in the 1970's.

Seriously, no one would miss them, besides their mothers, who failed at their job anyways.

Posted by: kenk3 | August 11, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Adults who themselves have no self-control are having children who have no self-control.

Consequently, the adults have no control over their children.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | August 11, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

They should lock up the lawbreaking kids and their parents. That might slow down the rowdiness.

Posted by: Raiche58 | August 11, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't even think of going down to gallery place. In fact i do not go to movie theaters including georgetown, i have had to leave too many times because if talking during the movie..sometimes on cell phones.

Do i hate the group no....but i have learned the hard way to avoid

Posted by: hunter501 | August 11, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

The power of media is endless. All it takes to make a stereotype stick is saturation coverage. There are some white posters on here making the obligatory racially stereotypical comments. But, wait...

There are only two culprits here, the parents and the media.

As Afro-Americans we have to get away from the slavery model to raise a child. Beating and hitting begats beating and hitting. Children need to be raised and far too many black kids aren't. Having said that....

The media can make anyone feel anything about anyone else.

It's the reason that I associate White men with child pornography and child abductions and child rapes.

The media is the reason I associate Latino men with sexual crimes against women,namely sneaking in a home and laying beside a female, snatching females off of bike trails, etc.

In fact, I hold the entire US media apparatus responsible for the murder rate. It's the singular cause of the desensitization of murder. Look how the nightly newscast goes-they show all murders & killings first and then unwittingly desensitize viewers by being jovial about the weather and sports. If the media wasn't using murder as titilation, they would do as Sunday newscasts do-show the slain and fallen at the END of the newscast-it's more poignant that way.

Posted by: ArmchairGM | August 11, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

We need to stop putting the blame on the city. These teens and young adults are a product of poor parenting. If you have problems with repeat offenders, lock up the parent(s). Too many parents let their children loose on the public without any home training. Teachers have the same difficulties, if the teen attends school. I have a friend from Baltimore who says the parents, mostly mothers, have adult men living at home at the age of 40 or 50 years old. These "men" usually don't have or keep jobs. And mommie's always there to enable their irresponsible lifestyle. Respect for others and self are learned at home.

Posted by: skinfreak | August 11, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Those who dismiss this behavior as that of restless teenagers should be required to observe this situation in person. They will never be the same again, particularly if they are hurt or robbed.

Posted by: JohnRice | August 11, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

"Why arent we hearing about "white kids doing the same thing, because they are rich?..."

This is exactly the crap that burns my rice with African Americans, (and I am an African American/hispanic, so spare me the racisim replies). That in order for things to be fair we have to highlight the other guys indescrecions like that's going to cure the ills of our black communities. It doesn't matter what the others are doing. We have to police ourselves. It's the same story: "Monkey see Monkey do" In other words, my being black and commitiing crimes is justified if whitey is doing it too! That's stinking thinking. Has it ever occured to us that if we take the high moral road and do the right thing than our righteousness will be noted and highlighted by society and we will be an example of what is good for society and not the poria's we tend to make ourselves out to be and justifiy it by screaming racism everytime we get caught. We will never make any headway in society if we keep making excuses for immoral behavior and elect individuals who bless our iniquities.

Posted by: rsanch8695 | August 11, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Today, after work, I walked over to 7th Street - there they were sitting on the Museum steps - lots of tennagers, yelling and screaming and acting like a bunch of idiots intimidating the public - not a cop or security person in site. Nothing has changed since Friday night. My heart goes out to the investors and business people who invested millions to improve the area and the residents who paid high prices for their homes - they are now worth nothing. And, you have Fenty and the Council to thank - they are doing nothing. I also work in the area and my coworkers are hesistant to go out onto the streets during the day. The hoodlums have taken over!

Posted by: DCguyme1 | August 11, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Iam sure abe pollin invested millions of dollars and designing and building the gallery place/MCI Center so that gangs of punk kids can harass people that try to enjoy it....also if people think chinayown is bad they need to spend a friday or saturday night in adams morgan then you will see where these punk ass kids go after they grow up.

Posted by: skinsfan15 | August 11, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Daytime DC = district of Cretins
Nighttime DC = District of Criminals
City Hall = District of Crooks!

Posted by: madmike272 | August 11, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

MPD needs to get tough with these ghetto dwelling thugs. Profile them. Harass them when they're in groups. Make them feel like they don't belong. NYC put a lot of these same type of trash in their place when Guliani was mayor. I live in downtown Silver Spring. The shopping and entertainment area was overrun with these type of thugs. Thankfully, there's a much stronger police presence during the week. I don't see so many of the undesirables loitering and loitering anymore.

DC needs to get with the program. This shenanigans has to stop. Let these animals stay in SE, NE, or Capital Heights.

Posted by: jabreal00 | August 11, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

When businesses complain and someone of prominence gets hurt or killed in the area then you will see a police presence like no other...

You let this happen at Wisconsin and M and I will bet you will see a response so quick by the community you will think you are in front of the White House....

Posted by: pentagon40 | August 11, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

These problems would go away if the green line was closed down and the ghetto couldn't spill into the decent parts of the city anymore. This is what decades of liberal programs like affirmative action and welfare have wrought. This is what treating single mothers as victims instead of the trash that they are has brought us. I hope you're all pleased with yourselves.

Posted by: VAtrailerTrash | August 11, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

So, what's Fenty's plan to solve this?

Posted by: edlharris | August 11, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Is Doug McKelway part of the "gay gang" that terrorizes McDonald's?

Posted by: kenk3 | August 11, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

I agree this happens in more than just Gallery Place but Gallery Place is a particular example of what could be if police increased their presence. On game nights I almost never have a problem but on non-game nights kids sit on the museum steps screaming racial slurs at bypassers, block entrances to stores and restaurants, and push each other into people just trying to walk down the block. This isn't a race thing, its just teens of all kinds causing trouble in the neighborhood hot spot. They should enforce no loitering laws or something because its out of control on non-game days.

Posted by: mike214 | August 11, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

In a word, "LAZY". A resident/product of the mid-west, and of a "proud" AA family..complete with the hardships and dysfunction; but, lazy is what I've seen in my 28 years in D.C. I can't fathom why a man would rather sit @ Gallery Place and beat on empty buckets, pounding out "non-musical" GO-GO beats than get a real job!?...lazy! Listening to the speech-patterns of most DC natives...particulary "from across the bridge"...sorry, but I really don't care who I offend, all I hear is "lazy" words being spoken by someone who either resisted/or just didn't care to get it...cuz' they's keepin' it gangsta or official. WTF? I'm empathetic enough to know, this mode of operation is just a by-product of institutionalized slavery..the have not's still are mad at the have's...and the have's turn a blind eye to the still antebellum protocol of the day! Not long, I'm headed above the Mason-Dixie line...I'm almost at my wits end. Having worked at Clydes, I had a birds-eye view of this dysfunctional behavior simply put, it is "inconprehensible"; but when you allow "laziness" to fester...this is what you get...I understood, but really didn't when after moving into a "now" gentrified neighborhood, when a 'sista'...said, she had to go. She was originally from Delaware and was so dumbfounded, the best analogy she could muster was, "plantation mentality" how many of you have used this term...or at least thought it? It's CUUUNTRAY as HIZELL. It is a city with Southern efficiency and Northernt aspirations. The only thing missing is the overseer...and that's a position up for debate! Many of you AAs will suggest and say, "If you don't like D.C...then move...well, I offer to you, as you see change taking place all around you...why don't you move...why don't you change? Why do you always need to take the easy way out/road? Lazy is lazy no matter where you live, of course; however, D.C. is in a whole different league of it's own: gruff MD and VA-ians who don't expect much from it's darkies "yeah, I said it"..and we sho' does play right into dis stereo-type This is the nation's capital...Our founding father's knew just what they were doing, ensuring it stayed in the...lazy...lazy...lazy South!

Posted by: fmhj | August 12, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Please, the mid west has its own problems with delinquency-detroit,youngstown, gary(see crime rates). Regional accents, whether northern, southern, etc. have nothing to do with laziness. Older industrial cities primarily in the midwest and northeast also have extreme wealth disparities ,and crime is likely a bigger problem in those places(so much for moving north as a cure all). Efficiency, thats more of a government(dc metro) vs private sector issue. Also, as residents see the neighborhood changing/gentrification why dont they do something? It seems as if they are, take the good with the bad. The slavery analogies idk.

Posted by: bilbobaggins1 | August 13, 2010 5:52 AM | Report abuse

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