Days after Starbucks said it was giving Black Lives Matter shirts to employees who wanted to support the movement, a Michigan man allegedly called several stores in Michigan and threatened anyone who wanted to back BLM.
It didn’t stop there for Kenneth D. Pilon, who prosecutors say left four nooses in parking lots and another in a 7-Eleven. The nooses left in Saginaw, Mich., in the summer of 2020 had the same handwritten note attached to them, prosecutors say.
“An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ t-shirt,” the notes allegedly said. “Happy protesting!”
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Pilon, 61, faces hate-crime charges for “willfully intimidating and attempting to intimidate citizens from engaging in lawful speech and protests in support of Black Lives Matter.”
“Specifically, Pilon intimidated and attempted to intimidate citizens from participating lawfully in speech and peaceful assembly opposing the denial of Black people’s right to enjoy police protection and services free from brutality,” FBI special agent Douglas Smith wrote in an affidavit.
Pilon is charged in federal district court with six counts of interfering with federally protected activities. If convicted of the misdemeanor charges, he faces fines and up to one year in prison.
Pilon did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. It’s unclear whether he has an attorney.
Violence against Black people and supporters of Black Lives Matter has continued in the nearly two years since George Floyd was murdered by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a killing that sparked demonstrations for racial justice across the United States in 2020. The leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, said he participated in the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner that had been ripped from the facade of a historic Black church during unrest in downtown Washington after a December 2020 rally for then-President Donald Trump. Weeks later, a White woman in Connecticut spit on a Black protester at a rally in support of Black Lives Matter.
Some of the most egregious incidents have occurred in Michigan. In Monroe County, federal prosecutors charged Lee James Mouat, a White man, with “willfully causing bodily injury to an African-American teenager because of the teenager’s race” after he allegedly told Devin Freelon Jr., 18, that “Black lives don’t matter” and broke the teen’s jaw with a bike lock. Candace and Eddie Hall forgave their neighbor Michael John Frederick Jr. last year after he slashed their tires, scrawled a swastika on their car and fired several bullets at their home in Warren — all because he was angry about their Black Lives Matter sign.
Pilon was an optometrist in Saginaw between August 1987 and June 2016, when his license expired, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
Weeks after Floyd’s murder, Starbucks announced that as part of its commitment to help end systemic racism, the company would make 250,000 T-shirts supporting Black Lives Matter available to employees who wanted to wear them “to affirm support at this critical time in our history.”
On June 14, 2020, Pilon called nine Starbucks stores in the state two days after the announcement, according to the affidavit. Each alleged phone call was threatening, with Pilon using the n-word repeatedly and telling employees that the only good Black person was a dead Black person, prosecutors say.
A Starbucks spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
About a week after he threatened Starbucks employees, Pilon began leaving nooses around Saginaw with the note about it being “an accessory” for those wearing BLM shirts, the affidavit says. After he allegedly left nooses and notes in the parking lot of a Goodwill store and in a 7-Eleven, authorities say Pilon left a noose inside the truck of Saginaw resident Donald Simon, who is Black. He continued leaving nooses in the parking lots of Walmart and Kroger in Saginaw, prosecutors say.
At a Black Lives Matter rally outside Simon’s home in July 2020, NAACP Saginaw Branch President Terry Pruitt vowed that the community was “going to nail this person.” Simon’s wife, Regina Simon, whom MLive describes as “Mexican-white,” told the news outlet that she had been wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt on their front lawn the day before the noose was found in the couple’s truck.
The Simons responded by posting signs near their home.
“Who put a noose in our car?” one of them read. The other? “Cowards Lives Matter.”
While it is unclear as to how investigators identified Pilon as a suspect, Smith wrote that there was more than enough probable cause that Pilon “interfered with federally protected rights.” His court date is pending.