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Racist text sparks protest at Wantagh pizzeria

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The sidewalk and street outside I Love Pizza, on Wantagh Avenue in Wantagh, became a hotbed of political ire when protesters gathered on Saturday to denounce the way the business handled an incident the previous weekend, in which a delivery driver called a Black customer a racial slur.

Lashae Jerry, 25, of Wantagh, and her mother, Monique Hawkins, were in Wantagh Park on March 27 when they ordered from I Love Pizza. It took their order roughly two hours to get to them, so they decided not to tip. In an expletive-ridden text, which Jerry shared with news outlets, the delivery driver wrote, “Black Lives Matter, but URS [sic] doesn’t,” called her the N word and told her to get out of Wantagh.

Jerry said that she started crying, so her mother went back to the pizzeria and demanded an apology. In a since-deleted video she posted on her Facebook page, Hawkins is seen confronting the owner of the pizzeria and demanding that he do something about the racist text.

In the video, the owner appears to ignore her demands and continues to make pizza, so Hawkins begins shouting at him, and he calls the police. When they arrive and Hawkins explains the situation, the owner says that he has fired the delivery driver, offers Hawkins and her daughter a refund and apologizes. But Hawkins is not satisfied.

“The reason why I got so frustrated is because I saw the same man still standing behind the counter,” Hawkins said at the protest, referring to the driver who sent the text.

“There were no apologies offered until I went live and started yelling,” she continued. “The employee was not fired or disciplined … and the owner did not offer a refund until I started yelling, and yes, we did turn the refund down because that’s not going to justify the situation of my daughter being called a” — and here she repeated the slur.

The owner declined to comment, or to be identified.

Organizers from two local activist groups, Long Island Peaceful Protest and Black, White, Brown United organized the April 3 protest, which attracted roughly 25 people, to demand that the business undergo sensitivity training and take more steps to ensure that such an incident doesn’t happen again.

They were met by a group of counterprotesters of similar size from the conservative political group Long Island Loud Majority. Some of them argued with and shouted at the protesters, while others ordered food from I Love Pizza. About 50 officers from the Nassau County Police Department, some of them on horseback, patrolled the scene and separated the feuding groups.

Terrel Tuosto, the founder of Long Island Peaceful Protest, said that no one should feel comfortable calling another person a racial slur, and that I Love Pizza had breached its trust with the community when its employee did. He said that Wantagh’s demographics exemplify segregation on Long Island, and embolden people like the driver who sent the racist message. Wantagh is more than 90 percent white and less than 1 percent Black, according to datausa.io, a U.S. Census database.

Brendan Felton, the founder of Black, White, Brown United, said that the pizzeria owner handled the incident “terribly” by not taking action against the employee until confronted by Hawkins.

In a post on its Facebook page, Long Island Loud Majority called the protesters “antagonists” who have “no idea what they’re actually protesting.” And in a video on the page, Shawn Farash, the group’s founder, said that the business should not be penalized when its owner acted “swiftly” and fired the employee, for which he should instead be celebrated.

“I agree, I think we all agree, that you can’t be texting racial slurs to customers or anybody — it’s unacceptable,” Farash said. “[But] If systemic racism were still alive, this employee would still have a job because it would be considered a cultural norm . . . this business acted in every way possible to rid themselves of this employee who demonstrated racism.”

But Tuosto said he organized the protest to let the community know that racism would not be tolerated. “We’re done dealing with it,” he said. “This was a hate crime . . . let this place be an example for every white-owned establishment that we do not stand for this and we will not take this.”

Tuosto also called on the crowd to call Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and demand the incident be treated as a hate crime. According to Detective Lt. Richard LeBrun of the NCPD, the department is still investigating.