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‘You can’t buy harm back once harm is done’: Protesters launch Anne Arundel boycott movement

Cars whizzed past the Rev. Marguerite Morris as she stood on the corner of Dorsey and Ridge roads, waving a photo of a salad and a printed screenshot of her Tweets at Anne Arundel County police.

Chants of “Police are for emergencies, not croutons” and “Denny’s is racist” echoed from Morris and her crew of about 25 protesters outside the restaurant on Friday.

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The chain and its Hanover location are the latest to be added to a blacklist created by county protesters, encouraging people to boycott other county eateries like Hellas in Millersville, Bruster’s in Annapolis and Annapolis Ice Cream Co.

Activists say they won’t stand for what they call racist social media posts and actions perpetuated by owners and associates of the businesses.

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And apologies aren’t enough to earn back their money.

“We’ve been at the point for a long time where we need to be singling out who in our area is truly dedicated to acknowledging the systemic racial injustice in our county and our country,” Emma Buchman said.

She was among the protesters from six different community groups outside the Denny’s on Friday. After the chain’s corporate office stood by the Hanover restaurant manager’s decision to call 9-1-1 on Morris twice last year, Morris is asking people to boycott all Denny’s.

Meanwhile, the county NAACP chapter is promoting Black-owned businesses with its Arundel Green Book. The spreadsheet is a local resurrection of the annual guidebook for African-American road-trippers published by Victor Hugo Green during the era of Jim Crow laws, when discrimination against Black people was widespread.

Protesters are pointing to the Green Book as direct alternatives to patronize instead of blacklisted businesses.

The list is small — the Google spreadsheet run by the group Showing Up for Racial Justice names nine area businesses — but it’s been powerful. Through social media and word of mouth, the list has cost some business owners thousands of dollars.

And organizers say they want it to grow.

Hellas Restaurant and Lounge owner Mike Stavlas said the fallout of being added to the boycott list has been traumatic.

As protests broke out around the country in late May after the killing of George Floyd, Mandy Stavlas — wife of the owner — shared several posts including one insinuating people should hit protesters with their cars.

Stavlas said he had to fire his wife.

Hellas later posted a lengthy apology on its Facebook page, saying as an immigrant-owned business its team can empathize with the struggle of Black Americans.

But Buchman said she told other activists to stop patronizing before that incident, when Stavlas would not let protesters park at his Millersville restaurant for an “#EndWhiteSilence” rally on June 4 at the Anne Arundel County Police headquarters across the street. Stavlas said he didn’t understand that the rally would be peaceful.

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Now, he wishes he made a different decision.

“If I could revisit that day and I could revisit that phone call, I would have liked to have worked something out,” Stavlas said.

Stavlas said he wants Hellas to be a place Black people and those from all walks of life feel safe. And he wants to make Hellas a place the community can come together to solve its problems. In the meantime, he said his business is hurting.

“There is a negativity that will follow our business and our family for a long time. We’re doing the best we can to move forward,” Stavlas said.

“There has been a call to action so to speak. They want to see us do more and we agree. This is a multimodal process for us. ... “We would love to be part of the community coming back together. We want people to break bread together and work out differences.”

Buchman and other activists said they’re waiting to see that action before they take Hellas off their boycott list.

“It’s not as easy as a simple apology,” said Monica Lindsey, a community organizer from Odenton. “It’s like stuffing toothpaste back in a tube. Once it’s out there it’s hard to get back in again.”

CJ Meushaw, an organizer of the “#EndWhiteSilence” rally, said people should be wary of taking apologies at face value.

“A lot of times these things are like an iceberg leading to a larger problem,” Meushaw said. “There may have been an apology about one aspect but it looks like there may be a little bit of a pattern there that could use a bit of reflection and growth.”

She and activists said they’re still waiting on that growth from local ice cream shops.

The Cold Shoulder

Annapolis Ice Cream Co. and Bruster’s Real Ice Cream in Annapolis are also on the boycott list.

Annapolis Ice Cream Company Ross Cohen, former owner of Annapolis Bus Co., was decertified as a bus driver for one year in 2018 after a 9-year-old Black boy said Cohen called him a racial slur. Cohen denied the incident when it was reported by The Capital. He did not respond for comment on this story.

After Bruster’s co-owner Dave Ruth posted last month on his personal Facebook page, “If u act like an animal.. u get treated like an animal” and “#WhatLivesMatter,” he said someone spray-painted “BLM” on his store.

He and his wife, co-owner Lisa Ruth, apologized to customers and the Black community for the now-deleted posts saying they were insensitive and careless, promising to go through sensitivity training and donate money to the NAACP.

Ruth said she donated $6,100 to NAACP on June 20 and met with the group over Zoom that day. She said she also met with the Fredrick Douglass Foundation.

But Meushaw said a donation like the Ruths’ can still be hollow. So the shop is still on the boycott list.

“Businesses will resort to that and say ‘We gave all this money because of this mistake that we made so you’re no longer allowed to complain,‘” Meushaw said.

“You can’t buy harm back once harm is done.”

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Ruth said Friday she doesn’t plan to go to sensitivity training as she and her husband promised.

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“I’m not guilty of what I’m being accused of (being racist),” she said. “I don’t feel I have to go to a sensitivity training. That’s like admitting I’ve done something wrong. ... God is my trainer.”

She said the store has lost almost $25,000 in about a month, and could lose $15,000 to $20,000 more in July if she can’t convince people to come back to the Forest Drive shop.

“It’s not going to just hurt me and my family. It’s going to hurt an entire community,” she said.

Boycotting businesses will take away job opportunities, Ruth insisted. She said she’s hired three people of color since the incident surrounding her husband’s Facebook posts.

“The fight these protesters are having is against the wrong people,” Lisa Ruth said. “Hurting businesses is the opposite of helping people be able to afford their bills.”

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