While protests continued outside The Fish Market in Clinton that’s been closed for more than a week, organizers and patrons decided to showcase Black-owned businesses across the street.
To accentuate that point, the event took place on America’s holiday, the Fourth of July.
“We are not only promoting our business, [but] we need people to understand we are important as well,” said Valerie Taylor, who’s owned Taylor Design with her husband, Brian, for 22 years. “In order for us to move up in our ranks, we must protest. We must let people know what’s going on.”
Other merchants such as Deidra Coleman know employees at The Fish Market who’ve explained how working conditions haven’t been idle. That’s why merchants are collecting donations for those workers while the market remains closed.
“We’re here to showcase our businesses, but we also need to help them, too,” said Coleman, who runs Deidra Fades Beauty Supply, which is scheduled to open this month at St. Charles Towne Center in neighboring Charles County.
The controversy at The Fish Market began June 26 when co-owner Rick Giovannoni, who’s white, allegedly told Black patron Darryl Rollins he couldn’t come into the restaurant and place an order because he wore a T-shirt that read, “I can’t breathe.”
Sherry Giovannoni, wife and co-owner, posted an apology on Facebook and said her husband “is bipolar and was drinking heavily” the day before the incident.
“My family is taking steps today to get my husband the help he needs. We apologize to any and all that were hurt by his behavior,” she wrote.
About five minutes later, Rick Giovannoni posted a reply: “Because my wife found it necessary [to] stab me in the back and throw me under the bus, it’s with great sadness I announce Sherry and I are no longer man and wife, business partners or friends.”
Neither Rick nor Sherry Giovannoni responded to a phone message for comment.
Residents have protested for more than a week on the sidewalks in front of the restaurant with a predominantly seafood menu, a house band and liquor store attached to it. The majority of the customers are Black, according to pictures posted on Facebook.
Some people wore T-shirts and masks with the “I can’t breathe” phrase, which has become a rallying cry for Blacks being killed by police and other forms of police brutality.
Eric Garner uttered those three words in 2014 after being placed in a chokehold by New York City police. He later died.
Six years later on May 25, George Floyd said “I can’t breathe” to Minneapolis police after being knelt on his neck. He also died.
As for The Fish Market, one of the main rally organizers, Rachel Sherman, demanded the removal of Rick Giovannoni from the property deed as a co-owner because of his history of racist and insensitive statements.
If Sherry Giovannoni remains the owner, entrepreneurship training should be offered to local high school students, Sherman said.
Although the restaurant is normally open Tuesday through Sunday, peaceful protests prevented any business at the establishment on Sunday, June 28 and Tuesday, June 30. Sherman said the restaurant hasn’t opened since July 1.
Sherman, who resides in neighboring Charles County but owns property in Clinton, said she and others are willing to help current Fish Market employees find new jobs.
“Don’t think for a second that the organizers aren’t thinking about those employees. We are trying to do some things for them,” said Sherman, a nurse practitioner who runs Maryland Concierge Primary Care. “We sympathize with the employees, but there is a bigger need and a greater calling.
“The big overarching goal is more Black ownership in the county,” she added. “If you are not here to respect the people who are your bread and butter, then you can leave.”
While people continue to protest The Fish Market in Clinton, police reform also became a topic on the Fourth of July in Palmer Park led by Del. Julian Ivey (D-District 47A).
Ivey coordinated a rally down the street from the Prince George’s police department headquarters calling for a special session on Maryland police reforms in the General Assembly in Annapolis.
A work group held its first virtual meeting June 23 on plans to craft legislation when the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January.
However, Ivey said it must be done sooner.
To amplify Ivey’s point, he posts daily messages on his Twitter page requesting a special session and “to highlight the name of a victim of police brutality.”
Locally, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced the creation of a police reform task force Friday, July 3 that plans to review police department strategies, hiring and use of force policies.
The group will be co-chaired by Circuit Court Judge Maureen Lamasney and Del. Alonzo Washington (D-District 22) of Greenbelt.
“While we have made important strides together as a community to build a responsive, transparent and accountable police department, we realize that there is still more work to be done to address issues that are present in PGPD and in police departments across the nation,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. “I am confident that this group of community advocates and public officials will develop insightful recommendations helping our police department truly become a model for our nation.”
The other members include former county State’s Attorney Glen Ivey, County Council President Todd Turner (D-District 4) of Bowie, retired Assistant Sheriff Orlando Barnes, Josephine Mourning, chair of the county’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Krystal Oriadha, co-founder of the LGBTQ Dignity Project.
Alsobrooks’ task force of nearly two dozen members was established after a nearly 100-page report became public June 18 that revealed white county police officers allegedly used racial slurs and retaliatory methods against fellow Black and Latino officers.
The document shows more than two dozen incidents of white officers who allegedly used racial slurs about officers and residents, white officers not disciplined for various incidents and Black and Latino officers transferred to other officers for speaking out against unjust behavior.
Hours after the report’s release, Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned.
The next day on June 19, Alsobrooks announced Assistant Police Chief Hector Velez will serve as interim chief during a national search for a new leader of the department of more than 1,600 officers and civilian employees.
After a comprehensive study and review of the police department, the task force will submit a report with recommendations to the county executive by Oct. 30.