The first Wednesday of October is National Coffee with a Cop Day.
The Fredericksburg Police Department participates annually and has toured several shops in the city over the years.
Local coffee shops advertise the event and community members who want to meet or have a conversation with a police officer typically stop by.
But after a tumultuous 2020 for police officers throughout the nation following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, owners of one Fredericksburg coffee shop believe the climate isn’t conducive to hosting the event.
Agora Downtown Coffee Shop, located at 520 Caroline St., canceled its Coffee with a Cop Day after complaints from employees and others on social media.
The event was scheduled to take place Wednesday, but the owners called Police Chief Brian Layton to inform him the event would not take place.
A statement released by co-owners MJ Stone and her sister, Andi Stone Chitty, said in previous years when Agora hosted the event it was never as divisive as it is now.
The owners also posted the cancellation notice to the business’ Facebook page and received nearly 300 comments.
There were mixed responses, with some understanding why the decision was made and others voicing support for city police.
Agora’s post apologized to those offended by the invitation to police officers, stating that the event came across as insensitive to some and that the owners take full responsibility for the decision.
MJ Stone is a member of the Police Department’s Citizen’s Advisory Panel.
“Our intent was to foster a welcoming place to facilitate open communication between the police department and the Fredericksburg community,” Agora’s Facebook post read. “With good will and intent, we believed this could provide such an opportunity. We know now that we missed the mark; Agora is not the right place for that discussion. … We never wished to cause strife in this community that we love so much.”
Agora’s owners said the business remains committed to “providing a friendly and welcoming environment to people from all walks of life.”
They said Chief Layton understood the decision.
Still, police department public information officer Sarah Morris said the cancellation was discouraging to the city’s officers and staff.
The department is named in a civil lawsuit that was filed by local protesters earlier this year regarding multiple teargassing incidents during protests of Floyd’s death last May 31.
The Police Executive Research Forum conducted an independent review of the incidents and criticized the department for deploying chemical agents too soon after dispersal warnings.
Agora’s owners said that incident played a role in the concerns of their employees.
The city Police Department has since implemented 64 of PERF’s 66 recommendations to improve its response to mass demonstrations. The department also participated in community events this summer such as Midnight Madness basketball and Peace In Da Paint in Mayfield, where police officers formed a hoops team to compete against youth for the first time.
“It’s hard,” Morris said. “I feel like our agency has always been community-focused and community policing is a big part of what we do. Unfortunately, the people who are concerned about this event misunderstood the whole purpose. The vision is not law enforcement coming in authoritatively. They’re coming in to have conversation over a cup of coffee.”
The FPD instead went to Italian Station at 620 Caroline St. for the event. Morris said Agora’s decision was “hard to swallow” and “hard to process,” and that the department is disappointed the employees didn’t see value in such an event.
Morris also said that since Agora’s cancellation, there has been an outpouring of support from the community, including several donations and pizza deliveries.
The department thanked Italian Station “for the love” on its Twitter page. The post stated the department won’t waver in its effort to become more visible and involved in the community.
“While this year’s event did not pan out the way we had hoped, we will continue to host more,” the statement on Twitter read. “We see the value events like this bring, not just to our agency, but to the residents that make #FXBG the special place that it is.”
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526