Tacoma group disrupts brunches to make point

Jamika Scott was nervous when she woke up for brunch Sunday.

She knew she might get yelled at. Someone might call police.

Scott headed out anyway to participate in the Tacoma version of what’s being called the “black brunch” movement.

The 28-year-old is part of a small group that’s demonstrated in Tacoma restaurants at brunch time the past several Sundays, reading aloud the names of black people killed by law enforcement across the nation.

“It almost immediately brings up a conversation,” Scott said during a recent interview. “It really allows people to reach that level of uncomfortableness that is necessary for discussion and change.”

Not everyone agrees brunch is the place for demonstrating.

Some restaurant employees have asked the demonstrators to leave. Some patrons get upset.

Tim Tweten, owner of Knapp’s restaurant in Proctor, said he would have liked the group to ask permission before demonstrating inside his business March 22.

“What isn’t appropriate is interrupting people when they want to go someplace and enjoy the company of each other,” Tweten said. “And disrupting our businesses that we work hard to maintain and that we count on and our employees count on for their living isn’t OK.”

Others have been supportive of what Scott and roughly seven others are trying to do, and sometimes bystanders join them.

They wear black, enter a business, say that a black person is killed every 28 hours in the United States by police, security or vigilantes, and read about 25 names of those who have died.

Start to finish, they spend about five minutes in each place.

“I think people think it’s going to go on for much longer and be more disruptive than it is,” Scott said. “As soon as people start to get upset, we’re basically done after that.”

Activists in other parts of the country are taking similar measures.

Tacoma demonstrators declined to speak individually, because they think media has portrayed their movement negatively. They designated Scott as a spokesperson.

The group went to Sixth Avenue businesses March 15, Proctor restaurants March 22 and to Ruston Way March 29. Scott said they’ll take a break for Easter Sunday, then plan to return April 12. She’s not sure how many weeks they’ll keep going. They call themselves the Tacoma Action Collective.

Black brunch demonstrations started in Oakland and have spread to Seattle, New York and elsewhere. The Tacoma group tweets from restaurants under the hashtag #blackbrunchtacoma.

The Twitter feed is peppered with a few vocal opponents.

One tweet, posted by @JustAnotherMo2 after protesters visited Legendary Doughnuts, read, “(expletive) with the bakers who brought us the cronuts. That’ll get you tons of public support right?”

Demonstrators and supporters often fire back.

@MsJ3lly: “When you call the police on black brunchers, do you say: ‘Quick! They’re saying black lives matter!’ ”

Sunday’s protests began about 11 a.m. at the Starbucks at 2112 N. 30th St. in Old Town.

Customer Tony Winn waited for his drink as the group went through its script, and he stayed to watch them finish.

“I wanted to see what was going to happen,” Winn said.

Nikole Spenny, who waited with him, said getting filmed by the demonstrators, who record what happens, was uncomfortable.

“I can appreciate wanting to bring light to a topic that is important,” Spenny said. “At the same time, it is sort of intrusive when people are just chilling out having coffee. It’s unexpected.”

The Spar owner Kathy Manke said she wasn’t there when demonstrators moved across the street to her business, but spoke with her employees about it later, who told her it wasn’t disruptive.

“They came in, they said whatever they say or chanted some things, and left,” Manke said. “I don’t think there was any problem at all. If they got in people’s faces or something that would be one thing I wouldn’t like, but from what I understand, it wasn’t like that at all.”

As the group walked down the hill toward waterfront restaurants, a woman chased after them.

She wanted to know what “Ashay,” a word chanted after each name during the demonstration, meant.

“It means ‘amen.’ It comes from a Kwanzaa tradition,” one of the demonstrators told her.

If one person feels like they’ve learned something from the demonstrations or has become more curious about issues facing the black community, Scott said the group has done something to advance its cause. Her goal is to start a community conversation about race relations.

After the stops in Old Town, they continued to several restaurants along Ruston Way.

Tacoma police spokeswoman Shelbie Boyd said one person called police about the group.

Records indicate the call came from C.I. Shenanigans restaurant, but it’s not clear whether a staff member or patron called, Boyd said. It’s not illegal for demonstrators to go into businesses. But if they don’t leave when asked, police can write them up for trespassing, and it’s then against the law for them to return, she said. None of the black brunch demonstrators were written up for trespassing on Sunday.

A corporate spokesman for Ram International, which owns Shenanigans, did not return a call from The News Tribune.

Scott said about six officers from Ruston and Tacoma approached them outside at one point, and one of the officers told them if they were asked to leave a business, they had to go.

They’ve usually continued for the 30 seconds to a minute it takes to finish the demonstration after they’re told to leave, Scott said.

“We aren’t looking for confrontation,” she said. “If the police are already there basically waiting for a call to come through, we’re not going to push our luck on that.”