Syracuse protesters hold sit-in at Texas Roadhouse over Black Lives Matter masks
DeWitt, N.Y. — A group of protesters who have marched daily through the streets of Syracuse to protest police brutality since the end of May held a sit-in at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant in DeWitt on Monday.
The protesters, members of the Last Chance for Change group, said they went to the restaurant to protest the its policy of not allowing employees to wear masks supporting Black Lives Matter.
Two employees — Emma Gibson and Jadasiah Cole — said they were told not to wear masks that say Black Lives Matter or represent the group. Other employees were told not to wear the masks, they said.
In all, the sit-in lasted about 30 minutes. DeWitt police responded, talked to managers but didn’t interfere with the protesters.
Gibson, who has regularly protested with Last Chance for Change, said she was sent home from her weekend shifts for wearing masks in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
Cole said she wore a pink mask with “Black Lives Matter” printed on the right and left sides to work on June 20. She said she was told employees could not wear a mask with writing on it.
Across the country, some stores and restaurants have faced backlash for not allowing employees to wear clothes with the phrase Black Lives Matter.
Starbucks initially banned such clothes, but eventually reversed its policy and started printing shirts for employees. Whole Foods employees in various cities have been sent home for wearing masks with the BLM phrase.
A Taco Bell employee in Youngstown, Ohio, posted a video about being fired for wearing the mask. The fast food chain said it would allow the clothes because the “Black Lives Matter movement is a human rights issue and not a political one.”
At the Texas Roadhouse in DeWitt, several employees ordered white masks with the image of a black fist breaking chains on the day Cole was told masks can’t have writing on them.
On June 21, Father’s Day, nearly the whole staff wore the masks with the fist and chains, Cole and Gibson said. They said a manager told the employees they would be allowed to wear the masks for the shift but would not be allowed to wear them again.
Cole, a single mother who has worked at Texas Roadhouse for eight years, said she decided to wear a blue mask, fearing she might lose her job.
“It makes me feel like people don’t care about us, like people of color are not cared about inside Texas Roadhouse,” Cole said.
This past Saturday and Sunday, Gibson said she tried to wear the mask with the fist. She was sent home both days, she said, though managers told her she would not be fired. She does not know if she will be paid for the shifts.
On Monday, representatives for Last Chance for Change attempted to talk to managers at Texas Roadhouse about the company’s mask policy. Protesters said they were told employees were required to wear solid masks, though several employees could be seen inside wearing patterned masks.
The managers also told the group they would provide them with the policy or a phone number and returned inside the business, protesters said.
After the managers stayed inside for about 30 minutes, about 40 protesters entered the restaurant and sat down at tables. They ordered bread and water, both free items before an order.
DeWitt police officers were initially dispatched to the location at 3:27 p.m. for a civil dispute, according to call logs. They parked in an adjacent lot as protesters stood outside the building.
About when protesters entered the building at 4:15 p.m., two police officers also responded to the building and talked to one of the managers.
The manager handed Curtis Chaplin, one of Last Chance for Change’s organizers, a number for the business’ corporate office.
“Mission complete,” Chaplin said to all those sitting in.
The protesters left without ordering any food and tipped each server $20.
“We had to organize this today to try to reach out an olive branch, and they didn’t want to sit with us, they didn’t want to talk with us,” said Sarah Jackson, who has protested with Last Chance for Change and works at Texas Roadhouse.
A representative at Texas Roadhouse asked a reporter to call back later tonight for comment.