St. Louis businessman’s criticism of police spurs backlash
The owner of a St. Louis-area pizzeria chain and a police union leader said Thursday that they hope to arrange a meeting after the restauranteur’s social media criticism of officers led to a boycott and hundreds of angry phone calls.
Pi Pizzeria owner Chris Sommers has criticized the police response to protests over a judge’s acquittal last week of Jason Stockley, a white former city police officer, in the fatal 2011 shooting of a black suspect, Anthony Lamar Smith. At least one protest took place near one of Somers’ restaurant.
The calls for a boycott came after Sommers tweeted, “And we pay a pension for these dimwits,” in response to a report that police chanted “Whose streets? Our streets” after arresting more than 100 protesters in downtown St. Louis. The group Blue Lives Matter subsequently posted an account that concluded, “Let’s get the word out that if you bash the police, you won’t be getting our business.” The county police union posted restaurant phone numbers on its Facebook page in backing the boycott.
Sommers said Thursday the ugly calls he’s received have included a death threat and a threat to firebomb one of his restaurants.
But he’s not backing off his criticism of police, saying, “I’m calling out what I saw.” He said he wants to discuss his concerns with St. Louis city and county police unions that they and their supporters believe “police can do no wrong” when their actions are questioned.
Jeff Roorda, business manager for the city’s St. Louis Police Officers Association, has agreed to meet, but details are still being arranged. He said the union has had angry calls, too, from Sommers’ supporters, and said someone broke two windows and sprayed graffiti at union headquarters.
“We’re going to put him on the spot and ask him to back up what he’s saying or back off of his comments,” Roorda said.
The backlash against Pi Pizzeria began after Sommers posted social media comments and video questioning police actions after one Friday night protest near the Pi Pizzeria in the trendy Central West End district. Sommers, his staff and customers handed out water on a hot night to protesters and others.
Sixty to 90 minutes after a non-violent protest ended, police moved in again and began shooting pepper pellets for no apparent reason, Sommers said. He said he was “dumbfounded and terrified” and screamed at officers, who then fired a tear gas canister. He said police were “terrorizing” him and his customers.
“I think I’m entitled to criticize when I’m shot at and tear gassed,” said Sommers, who also has called on the mayor to fire the city’s interim police chief.
Roorda said the city police union questions Sommers’ account of what happened Friday night but is conducting its own review.
“If this is just a misunderstanding, we want to clear it up,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said, officers still are boycotting Sommers’ restaurants.
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