Sunday, June 20, 2010

The RIA Incident

Usually I focus on Northern Virginia in this blog, but I found an incident worth writing about in NE DC.

In 1973 the DC chapter of the Pagans had a club house at 3423 Eastern Ave. in Mt. Ranier, MD. A few blocks away, in the Woodridge neighborhood, they had picked RIA at 3112 Rhode Island Ave., NE as their hangout after being banned from two other nearby bars. The bar sits right on the border between DC and PG County in a regular middle class neighborhood once known for its country music clubs. However, the area was decaying and transitioning from a majority white to a majority black neighborhood causing racial tensions.

The Pagans were no strangers to racial violence. In August 1966 they had a protracted battle with black residents in Southeast at the 1023 club (see Mark Opsasnick's book Capitol Rock). Link Wray was playing one night as locals attacked the club and assaulted patrons. During the 68 riots one member of the Pagans was arrested at 14th and U shooting at rioters from a car. By 1973 DC had been through a massive transition to "Chocolate City" and was rapidly loosing its white population. This was not unusual for cities at the time as white residents fled integration and cities devasted by the start of deindustrialization.

Residents of the neighborhood had been complaining about drug dealing and rowdiness going on at the club. One person alleged that a member of the Pagans had a needle in his arm in a car outside the club, but their usual trip was "beer, and lots of it". Some residents claimed the Pagans were threatening them with racial epithets and displaying guns.

The real trouble at RIA started in July 1973 when a white woman and black woman got into an argument inside the bar. The dispute moved outside and two Pagans came to her aid, then a group of black men joined on the side of the black woman. The brawl involved about 40 people. One black guy named Michael Edward Jones, 23 of 3124 Newton St., NE was there and got involved in the fight. He lived around the corner from the Pagans club house and two blocks from RIA and it was not his first encounter with them. About a week earlier he had been run over by a car driven by a member of the Pagans. As the brawl got heated, he somehow got a hold of a stop sign and cracked it over the head of Bob Brown, the DC Pagans president. Brown died from his injuries. Jones was arrested for the murder of Brown, but a grand jury refused to indict him.

An enterprising Post reporter covering the story, gained admittance to the Pagans club house to interview members, but encountered a man named "tireiron" and thought better of it. He did interview a biker named Richard Sebastian two doors down who claimed not to be a member, but he did offer a warning that the Pagans were "stone crazy". He said everyone carried a gun in the area and "something has to be done over Bob Brown's death. He was righteous cat -- he had to be, he was the president".

The tension got the attention of the FBI, which was worried about retailiation and racial violence. The FBI issued a bulletin tha the Pagans had purchased guns and explosives in Florida and were planning to retaliate in September. PG Police raided a members home in September in Beltsville and found a cache of weapons, narcotics, and a copper still.

After the incident a group of white men shot at a group of black youths from a station wagon and two Pagans assaulted a black man in Woodridge. The shooting was never linked to the Pagans and the assault victim didn't show up to court. Residents fought the renewal of the liquor license for RIA, but the owner, Robert Pluebell, prevailed and gained his liquor license.
Apparently, the bar closed sometime later, but the building is still standing and was recently the offices for a surveying company.