Two groups of protesters stood on opposite sides of a hedge in the parking lot outside Vince’s Crab House in Middle River on Friday, the 28th day of demonstrations aimed at shuttering the seafood restaurant.
On the sidewalk side of the hedge were about two dozen picketers from the Shut Down Vince’s Crab House protest group, who have been coming out daily with placards and a bullhorn. The protesters are trying to force owner Vince Meyer to relocate his business because he made posts on social media that mocked the Black Lives Matter movement and used racial slurs in older posts.
On the hedge’s shopping mall side stood a 79-year-old U.S. Navy veteran protesting the protesters. Ed Reider patrolled back and forth on the sidewalk in front of Vince’s, waving the oversized American flag from the front porch of his Middle River home.
As the nation began celebrating the three-day Independence Day weekend, both sides expressed their own version of the First Amendment that protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress.”
“I came out because I thought it was time someone stood up, not just for this business but for the country,” said Reider, who served as an electrician in the Navy from 1952-56.
Tensions at the Middle River strip mall began to ratchet up Friday after owner Vince Meyer and his mother, Brenda, arrived at the seafood establishment they own, followed minutes later by about 10 Baltimore County Police officers.
After one protester ventured too near the storefront restaurant, he was placed in the back of a squad and driven away. Officer Jennifer Peach, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Police Department, said later that the 63-year-old Middle River resident, who is Caucasian, is expected to be charged with trespassing.
For their part, Meyer and his mother have claimed they have been subject to nonstop harassment for the past month. They said they have been followed home, called in the middle of the night and received death threats. They have said they have spent $40,000 on private security.
Though tempers climbed on Friday morning along with the thermometer, reaching 95 degrees outside by noon, there was no physical contact between the groups. Both sides more or less kept to their side of the hedge.
Protest organizer Kellie Vaughan announced a new initiative during a press conference before the picketing began. She said her group is soliciting an African American restaurateur to open up a crab house near Vince’s, with the goal of cutting into his customer base. She said a GoFundMe account already has raised $4,000 in seed money for the business.
”We are not here to break windows,” said Rikki Vaughn, a former mayoral candidate and co-leader of the protest. ”We are not here to break doors. We are here to break their pocketbooks.“
Vince's Crab House owner files complaint against county for not enforcing the rule of law to allow the business to operate without interference from protesters.
Meyer has said that he regrets the social media posts but doesn’t think protesters should seek to deprive him of his livelihood. He said Friday that he has no intention of relocating his Middle River establishment, as the group has demanded.
“I’m not concerned about a little competition,” he said. “But I don’t think people should be calling my vendors and trying to convince them to stop doing business with me.”
For several minutes as Reider patrolled the sidewalk in front of Vince’s waving his big flag, he and the protesters on the opposite side of the hedge ignored one another.
Then, a man in a green shirt called out from his spot on the sidewalk to the military veteran.
”I respect your service to our country,” said Tony Denihie Mei, 46, who said he had been a frequent customer of Vince’s before he relocated to West Virginia.
Mei began to ask Reider questions: Why had he come out to Vince’s this morning? Where had he served, and when?
The older man crossed the parking lot and leaned across the hedge towards Mei.
They talked about Black Lives Matter, the protests in front of Vince’s, and the nationwide demonstrations following the death of George Floyd. They agreed about absolutely nothing — except perhaps, for their common sacrifice.