A family-run eatery in Prince George’s County known for its seafood, service and house band, and a favorite among the local African-American community, now finds itself under fire after a reported racial incident between the owner and a customer.
On Tuesday, June 30, dozens of people continued recent daily protests outside of The Fish Market in Clinton on Old Branch Avenue, holding signs and chanting phrases which included, “I can’t breathe” and “shut it down” while those supporting their efforts honked their horns as they drove past in automobiles.
Just over a week ago, a Black man attempted to enter the restaurant seeking to place his order when, allegedly, the owner blocked his entrance, saying that he could not come in wearing a T-shirt which said, “I can’t breathe.”
The T-shirt’s message, which references the recent death of George Floyd and other Black men at the hands of law enforcement, has become a rallying cry for protesters both in the U.S. and around the world as they’ve taken to the streets demanding change within police departments including the need for de-escalation policies and defunding.
After the incident between the customer, Daryl Rollins, and the owner, who is white, it is reported that employees came to the support of Rollins.
In stories filed by both DC Fox 5 and Newsweek reporters, it seems that Rollins and his family were waiting to get in the restaurant when the confrontation occurred.
“He came over and told me, ‘Why do you have that shirt on? I’ve seen the video. It was terrible. Why would you wear that shirt? You cannot come into my establishment like that,’” Rollins said.
The video to which the owner referenced, Rollins says, was that of Floyd being killed. Eventually, allegedly due to the outrage of employees who are mostly Black, the owner relented – allowing Rollins and his family to enter and even providing free food and drinks. However, Rollins says he heard the owner mutter other disparaging remarks under his breath.
Shirley Giovannoni, co-owner, went to Facebook seeking to apologize for her husband’s behavior.
“To say that I am shocked and embarrassed by his behavior is an understatement,” she wrote, adding that her husband has challenges with mental health and alcohol for which they have sought help. She summarized her husband’s response to the T-shirt as a “misunderstanding.”
But according to several protesters, the incident is not an isolated one. They say it has become common knowledge among frequent Black patrons that the owner holds racist notions and makes his views known with regularity.
Cory Brim, a Black business owner, has employed social media over the past few days, posting interviews he’s held with several people as they marched with signs and voiced their displeasure. As Brim observed, the staff reported to work but no customers had ventured inside.
“You want change? Hit them in their pockets,” he said. “This place is packed Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and has been for years – every weekend. This is what it looks like when Blacks gather and protest peacefully. We’ve decided to take our economic dollars and put them together for good.”
One Black woman, saying that she often goes to the restaurant, spoke to Brim about why she’d come out to protest.
“Black lives matter. Black dollars do too. We thank people for responding and we’re asking for even more support,” she said as horns continued to blare in the background.
“This place has been here over 20 years that I know and Blacks pack the house. But the owners have been lying and giving fake apologies. Enough is enough. We don’t want any more apologies,” she said.
Another protester, also a Black woman, added her perspective.
“We are no longer willing to allow them to build their wealth on the Black community while disrespecting us,” she said. “When someone comes in with a T-shirt and you tell them to get out, that shows that you don’t respect the movement. So, we’re going to stay out here and stand united. We are going to continue to be out here and shut it down. We want to make sure they don’t make one dollar. When people pull up, we’re asking them not to shop here. This is not the first time the owners have disrespected our community – and we’ve had enough. We don’t need them, they need us. There’s a Black-owned Jamaican fish shop one block over, if you’re looking for a good meal.”
“We are here because we’re change-makers. We want our elected officials to be responsible. We want money to be put into our businesses. As for the owners, they can take their racism somewhere else – out to Montgomery County where they can disrespect whites, if they want. But this is a Black community and if we’re not good enough to be served with respect, then we don’t want you here. This is about unity,” she said.
In an unconfirmed statement, one local resident said she’d heard that at least one Black employee has quit their job over the racist ruckus and that other Black-owned businesses in the area have agreed to pick up staff with offers of employment if they would rather work in a different, less hostile environment.
“This incident happened in our backyard and we cannot and will not tolerate it,” said Jeffrey Rascoe, a local activist and former County Council candidate. “As a resident of Clinton, I am embarrassed by this establishment and its owner.”