By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — A comment on social media made by a borough business owner sparked an outcry as some called for his business to be shut down while others defended him.
Edward Hughes, who owns two restaurants, The Bomb Bay Cafe and Edible Dreams Cakes bakery, posted “What a great roll (sic) model for young men. #Fu*kblacklivesmatter” on Facebook under a link to a story about rap musician Hurricane Chris, who is black, being charged with second-degree murder in Louisiana.
Some people on social media denounced Hughes and the comment as racist and shared screenshots of the post. While that discussion was ongoing, Hughes then received threats, which police are now investigating.
Black Lives Matter is a movement against systemic racism and police brutality. BLM protests calling for social justice and police reform have increased globally in the wake of George Floyd’s death May 25 at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Hughes said his comment was not against black lives. He said he was angry that a rap musician, who is looked at as a role model and is a supporter of BLM, was charged with murder as violence against young people grips the country.
Hughes said the media only shows BLM when police brutality takes place but not when a young child is killed by a stray bullet. He said some people are using the BLM movement for their own agendas.
“First off, I don’t have to apologize to anyone. It’s my First Amendment right if I do agree or don’t agree how an organization represents themselves,” said Hughes, who is white.
“People that know me know I don’t choose race. I love my country. I know what it stands for,” he added. “I wish everyone would appreciate the freedoms that we have because people died for my freedom of speech and their freedom to protest.”
Maehand Mack, who lives in West Haven and lived in Naugatuck for most of his youth, started an online petition at Change.org calling for Hughes’ businesses to be shut down. Mack, who is black, said Hughes’ comment was against black people and the BLM movement.
“You got to understand, you got to be accountable for what you say,” Mack said. “You got to be accountable for what you post. A lot of people are losing their jobs over what they post.”
Bill Yousman, a media studies professor at Sacred Heart University, said people need to respect the power of social media. Posts and comments on social media can easily spread and spill out of control, he said.
“People need to be more aware that when you do put it on social media, it’s like putting it on a big billboard,” Yousman said.
Mack’s petition has been taken down. In an email to Mack, Change.org stated the petition was identified as bullying.
A counter petition was started on Change.org to support Hughes and his businesses. The petition was still up as of July 2, but a message on the page stated it would be deleted since Mack’s petition was taken down.
Mack said he’s not trying to bully anyone. He said he’s pushing for change and that starts with holding people accountable for their actions and what they post.
“Everybody has to be accountable for what they do,” Mack said.
Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister said the department is aware of various threats made against Hughes and his business. He said the department submitted an arrest warrant application to prosecutors at Waterbury Superior Court for possible charges as a result of an investigation.
Mack shared screenshots that showed he has been the target of racially vulgar insults and threatening messages on Facebook. He said last week he had not filed a complaint with police.
Yousman said people from multiple generations and across the political spectrum are choosing social media to communicate, and it has been a hotbed for conflicts. Threats are over the top, absurd and unproductive, he said.
“People are interacting at a distance, sometimes anonymously. Sometimes it’s easy to be aggressive when you’re not sitting in front of the person.” Yousman said. “It emboldens people to be aggressive. They’re not prepared for the backlash.”