A crowd of about 100 people descended Saturday afternoon on crab houses in Middle River and Fallston to confront the operator over racist comments posted to social media.
The reprisal comes amid protests across the nation after the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protesters first went to the Middle River location of Vince’s Crab House to shout “Shut them down!" to Vince Meyer, who operates the crab houses and is white.
Screenshots of Meyer’s social media accounts that circulated online included one from June 1 that said: “There is one place I bet the protesters/rioters won’t light on fire or break into or even block the road to .... the social services buildings.” That was followed by four laughing emoji.
A screen shot from a 2012 post stated: “I hope this zimmerman guy is found not guilty js” (“JS” is shorthand for “just saying.”) The post was likely referring to George Zimmerman, a Florida man who shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was found not guilty.
Other screenshotted posts included use of a racial slur.
“I went to bed what I thought was an honest business owner and woke up being demonized and just being called a straight-up racist,” Meyer said in a video posted this week to social media.
He acknowledged that his customer base is “75% black people.” He also said that his best friend growing up was black.
“Obviously, my posts were offensive, and I can’t take them back,” Meyer said. “I consider myself really close to the black community, and it’s really hitting home.
“I can’t apologize because nobody’s going to accept it," he said.
Meyer’s response video was 8 minutes and 46 seconds long, which was noted by a sign carried by one demonstrator.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds is the length of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Chauvin was fired and has been charged with second-degree murder.
Meyer could not be reached for comment by The Baltimore Sun on Saturday afternoon.
Kellie Vaughan, 35, said she travels from Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood to Middle River weekly to buy crabs from Vince’s. She estimated that she has spent at least $1,000 there so far this year.
So when she saw the owner’s Facebook posts circulating Saturday morning, she knew she had to act.
“Black dollars matter, and as people we will not be disrespected,” she said. “Our lives matter, our business matters and we couldn’t not be heard today.”
Vaughan had started to plan a protest for 4 p.m., but as the Facebook posts spread, people showed up earlier and began shaking the doors and threatening the staff, she said. Vaughan said she rushed over in hopes of preventing any violence and called Baltimore County police to help.
“When we said ‘Shut them down,’ we meant money-wise,” Vaughan said. “They have multiple locations, and that ends today.”
Vince’s has five locations, according to its website: Middle River, Manchester, Fallston and two in Dundalk.
Videos posted on Facebook showed angry people trying to push their way into the Middle River site on Saturday. Baltimore County police officers inside the store kept the glass doors closed, though a few people who were already inside shouted at Meyer and other employees.
Facebook videos also showed a boisterous crowd, largely African American, outside shouting, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”
Jerome Wilson said he wanted to show his 9-year-old daughter, Alayna, how to peacefully protest and “fight back.”
“We are taking a stance against injustice and not just talking about it,” he said.
Alayna said she was happy to be out protesting and making history. “It’s not fair that white people get treated differently than black people,” she said.
Raven and Troy Williams of Middle River brought their 13-year-old son to the protest because they couldn’t stand to do nothing about the “hurtful” remarks Meyer made.
Troy Williams, 43, said he doesn’t want his children growing up in a world like this.
“I’ve gone through it, my parents went through it, their parents went through it and their parents went through it,” he said. “It’s why we’re standing up. I want to raise my kids in a world where this doesn’t exist. I don’t want them to go through this.”
Baltimore County police officers mingled with the protesters. A corporal entered a circle of protesters giving hugs, high fives and fist bumps to those that asked.
And Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt stood nearby keeping an eye on the protest and chatting.
Most of the crowd then drove more than 20 miles north to the Vince’s Crab House location in Fallston.
Carrying signs saying “Black Lives Matter," “Black Dollars Matter” and “Boycott Vince’s," they lined the road outside the strip mall where the crab house is located.
Dominique “Poetry” Brooks said she started at Middle River, went to Fallston and planned to go to other Vince’s locations.
She protested in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray, a young Baltimore man who was fatally injured in police custody after an arrest on a minor charge. She held sage outside Vince’s in Fallston in hopes of bringing peace to the area.
“It made me want to come out here because not only am I black, but also to help keep the peace,” she said.