By Hadassa Kalatizadeh
Protests against racial injustice and police prejudice continue across the country, following the death of George Floyd. A New Jersey catering business in Mercer County, faced heavy backlash on social media on Thursday after its chef called the Black Lives Movement “bull—-”, making light of Floyd’s death.
As reported by NJ.com, Joseph Russo, who made the comments on his Facebook page, identifies himself as a co-owner of The Stone Terrace by John Henry in Hamilton. “I f—— hate these protesters. The evil ones,” Russo said on his page. “You’re halting our way of life for your bull—- looting.” Russo further posted an image of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man, with a caption underneath that read, “Hey, NFL, here’s how. Right on!”
Community members and leaders have been quick to lash out at the comments and “Russo’s act of inhumanity.” “Anyone who continues to patronize Stone Terrace with the full knowledge that Russo felt comfortable in putting on blast that Black Lives Matter is bull—- is complicit in his act of dehumanizing his fellow citizens,” Jeannine Frisby LaRue, a community leader in Trenton, wrote on her Facebook page on Thursday.
Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin also spoke out, calling Russo’s comments “hateful and abhorrent.” “Had I known he held these racist feelings, I would never have attended, supported, or held events at his restaurant,” Martin wrote in a statement on Thursday.
Responding to backlash from the community, The Stone Terrace sought to detach itself from the chef. “It’s come to our attention that there have been inappropriate posts made by an employee at The Stone Terrace,” the restaurant posted in a statement on Facebook. “Joseph Russo is not the owner of The Stone Terrace and these views do not reflect our views as a whole.” The statement added that the business was ashamed of Russo’s comments and that they do support the Black Lives Matter movement. Further, the catering company took down its Facebook page on Thursday and representatives of the business did not respond to calls for comment. Russo also did not return calls seeking comment.
Numerous other businesses and organizations have come under fire for lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, or even for a seeming insensitivity towards the issue. The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ is one such example. The organization sent out a mass email soliciting donations to “help keep the curtain up on our digital stage”. The email went out with the subject line, “Arts and Culture Matter.” What the sender might have thought was a catchy phrase, ended up exploding like a bomb in recipients’ inboxes. It took merely two hours for Michael Rosenberg, managing director of the theater, to issue an apology.
“I apologize for the very poor choice of words that I used in the subject line for today’s email,” Rosenberg wrote in a follow-up email on Wednesday night. “In saying ‘Arts and Culture Matter’, it came across as if we were equating arts and culture with the Black Lives Matter movement and that is not a belief that McCarter or I hold.” The email blast, which had been sent out to members of the public, supporters of the theater and the press, quickly received responses implicating that the wording in the email was not ok. “This is absolutely a moment for cultural institutions like McCarter to listen and learn – and we clearly have work to do,” the apology added. “I pledge to listen, learn, and do better.”
As per an interview with NJ.com, Rosenberg took responsibility saying he was involved in drafting the “arts and culture matter” email. “I’m the one that gave the final sign-off on the email, so I’m responsible,” he said. “I think it’s really important that I acknowledge that that was a poor choice of words and that I caused pain,” Rosenberg added. On May 31, the McCarter Theatre Center had posted a message of support for Black Lives Matter on Instagram. “We stand on the side of justice and equality. We shout BLACK LIVES MATTER with you. We fight for our values: equity, anti-racism, and anti-white supremacy,” the McCarter theatre Instagram post had read.