In recent weeks, “Black Lives Matter” signs have appeared in windows along Market Street, showing solidarity with the anti-racist movement that spurred late in May after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
But some Frederick businesses have taken their support further, by taking public stances, selling items to benefit Black foundations and organizations or changing their policies.
Pizza Llama, owned by Frederick resident Andrew Wilkinson, made waves on social media earlier this month for deciding to not serve police officers in uniform. Wilkinson said he originally made the announcement on his Instagram story, which disappears after 24 hours. He hadn’t expected it to get so much attention.
He made the decision after reading an article about David McAtee, who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky. McAtee was the owner of a BBQ restaurant that routinely served officers for free.
“I just feel like we’ve been hearing about these things... the countless ... names we’ve heard before,” Wilkinson said. “And some people get outraged. Some people don’t care. But it kind of always seems like... the conversation is avoided, the outrage is short lived by people who don’t have to live in that reality every day. I don’t think it’s something we have to avoid, these are conversations we need to have and need to address this head on.”
Wilkinson said there were two reasons for his decision to no longer serve uniformed police officers. One was a protest of the routine killing of innocent Black people by police officers. The second is because many people, especially people of color, feel unsafe in the presence of an officer with a badge and gun, she said.
Emma Rivera of Frederick hadn’t heard of Pizza Llama before she saw that they were refusing to serve police officers, but once she did she started supporting them, joining many others who Wilkinson says have been very vocal.
She said she has been personally failed by the police on multiple occasions throughout the last couple of decades. For Rivera and her friends, who are mainly Black and Hispanic, the presence of a police officer makes them feel like they need to be on their best behavior, or not give the police “a reason” to question them.
“When you see a uniform, the first thing you do, and I don’t think it’s just me, but you’re instantly like, ‘I need to behave,’” Rivera said. “It’s like apparent they’re watching you, and you freak out a little bit.”
Opposers have taken to social media to say the denying of service to officers in uniform is “criminal.” However, it is not illegal to refuse to serve uniformed officers. Businesses cannot deny someone service based on protected classes such as their race, ethnicity, religion or sex. But occupation is not a protected class, and businesses are allowed to enforce dress codes.
Acting Frederick Police Chief Patrick Grossman said he doesn’t have an opinion on Pizza Llama’s decision. He did say that the department has been receiving “outstanding support” from the community and local businesses recently.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he wasn’t too familiar with the business, but said that he had heard about the controversy over the last week. Considering the support Jenkins said he has seen from members of the community, the sheriff said he wouldn’t be surprised if the gesture led to the owners seeing less business.
“Honestly, I think it’s foolish on his part and it might end up damaging his business because we have been seeing a huge outpouring of support for the law enforcement community,” the sheriff said, saying how residents and businesses have been dropping off food, coffee and even well-wishing cards and posters at the Frederick County Law Enforcement Center over the last few days. “... And another thing to consider is, those officers have friends and families; husbands, wives, sons and daughters, so I’m pretty sure he’s not going to get any of their business, either.”
The food truck was removed from its usual location at Jug Bridge Brewery on East Patrick Street by the building’s landlord, Wilkinson said. Since then, it has been banned from farmers markets and other events, including the Mount Airy Farmers Market.
But while the pizza truck has taken some hits, Wilkinson does not believe the move has been bad for business as a whole. He still has many people supporting him.
“I think a lot of the people who disagree with me and the fact that we’ve had some trouble with location, they think that business is bad, but actually we’re seeing a lot of support in the community,” Wilkinson said. “I know I haven’t felt alone.”
Wilkinson has been moving the truck daily and providing the address only to people who are coming to pick up pizza who have already ordered online. He’s also doing delivery runs.
His phone has been flooded with hate messages, he said, and he is concerned that revealing his location would compromise the safety of his staff.
The food truck’s Yelp page had to be temporarily frozen by the website, which does so when people start to flood pages with reviews that are linked to a news item and not the food itself.
Wilkinson recently launched Pizza Llama T-shirts at the request of customers. The proceeds will go to “I Believe in Me,” a foundation started by Aje Hill to help support disadvantaged boys in the Frederick community. He figured
“I felt like rather than just profiting off of issues that aren’t necessarily my issues, that don’t affect me directly in our community and at the hands of the police ... I would do something different with the money from all this attention,” Wilkinson said.
Businesses address racism
Other businesses have released items to help support Black organizations and charities, like McClintock Distilling on Carroll Creek. The distillery teamed up with Idiom Brewing Co. to make a collaboration called “Black is Beautiful.” All profits will go to the Maryland ACLU.
Braeden Bumpers, co-founder of McClintock, said the decision to get involved in the national initiative, started by Weathered Soul Brewing in Texas, was easy.
“We wanted to make it very clear that we stand with our community and this was a really good way to do that, and also raise money with the Maryland ACLU and help with everything they are doing as well,” Bumpers said.
Other Frederick County breweries including Smoketown and Milkhouse are also making Black is Beautiful brews.
Other businesses have used their product to help educate the community. Curious Iguana, the independent bookstore on Market Street, has been repeatedly selling out of anti-racist books such as “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.
“Racism is wrong, and I believe that individuals, business owners, government leaders, all of us have got to do whatever we can to put an end to racial injustice,” owner Marlene England said. “Books can be such powerful tools for understanding and then figuring out how to make change happen.”
England said the store has not received any backlash for highlighting diverse books and nonfiction books about racism.
“I think people understand that the role of an independent bookstore is to offer titles that will be meaningful and helpful to our community,” England wrote in an email. “We are encouraged that our customers are reading more books about race and racism — whether they’re buying the books from us, getting them from the library, or elsewhere.”