Social media posts by two Freeport restaurant owners critical of marchers protesting police brutality have sparked area protests and led to a Change.org petition calling for the boycott of the restaurants.
More than 26,000 people had signed the petition by Saturday night, vowing to "cancel" Rachel's Waterside Grill, Nawlins Seafood Company, Bracco's Clam Bar and Captain Ben's — all on Freeport's Nautical Mile.
Ivan Sayles, co-owner of Rachel's and Nawlins Seafood, is under fire for a post on the "We Are Freeport" Facebook page in which he stated, "My two cents...But why aren't the cops in hats and bats shooting tear gas into the crowd beating the crap out of these rioters...As far as I'm concerned if you attack a police officer, a police car (with cops inside) or a police station you've attacked the sovereignty of the United States of America and deserve an appropriate reaction."
The post, which he has since deleted, got more than 300 comments, some in support but mostly in opposition, Sayles said in an interview Thursday.
Jon Bracco, a co-owner of Bracco's and Captain Ben's, was called out on Instagram and Facebook for reposting President Donald Trump's tweet in which he used the word "thugs" to describe Minneapolis residents protesting the death of George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck. Many people shared screenshots of his posts in groups like "Black Long Island" — a Facebook page with nearly 28,000 followers.
Sayles said Thursday he stands by his comments. Bracco, who posted a lengthy apology, did not return messages seeking comment.
About 500 people gathered Tuesday on the Nautical Mile to denounce Sayles' and Bracco's posts, calling the men racist and promising to boycott their restaurants.
"Our money feeds these people. We support them and their restaurants and this is what they do?" said Arnold Caceres, 29, a Freeport resident who helped organize the protest. "They don't show any of that love and support back to us, that's why we need to be vocal and let them know they're losing our business."
Bracco posted his apology before the business' Instagram was deleted, saying "On emotional impulse I made some very insensitive and offensive posts recently ....I'm very sorry for the hurt I've caused."
Sayles said, "the whole thing has been blown out of proportion."
"Nothing that I said was racist. I don't think the majority of Americans are racist. There's a bad apple in every barrel," he said.
"Everyone agrees there should be justice for George Floyd but this is getting crazy...I got about 10 threats on FB messenger."
Even so, Sayles said he doesn't think the backlash will affect his business long-term, noting that some of the people who signed the Change.org petition are not locals.
"People in Georgia saying they'd never come to my restaurant. Those people weren't going to anyway," he said.