Lynchburg restaurant owner apologizes, cleans up destroyed business
Most people showed up at the intersection of Fifth and Federal in Lynchburg to protest peacefully for equality and racial justice. It started with one woman, Stacy O'Hara, holding a single Black Lives Matter sign around 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
She said she was eventually joined by another, then there were ten, then 20. She said by the evening there were over 100 people standing in the roundabout singing, chanting and protesting peacefully.
When she noticed tensions started to rise after dark, she said she left the area. When she came back the next morning,
was not what she wanted to see.
"I teared up," O'hara said. "It's sad that they feel like they have to resort to that. I'm sad for the people who were inside who felt scared for their lives. I'm sad for the people outside who felt scared for their lives."
Some people who stopped by Monday wondered why this popular downtown restaurant was the target of Sunday night's violence. Many claim it started with a
The owner of Fifth and Federal, Josh Read, re-posted that tweet, adding he'd pass out the masks to his employees. Only he said he meant his comments to be a jab at Northam and was blind to the bigger picture.
"We dearly apologize," Read said. "There was no racial intent. It was sincerely based on our frustration with the pandemic and everything that had been going on prior to this."
Fifth and Federal had also apologized on social media before Sunday, but both apologies came too late and his business now has broken windows and doors, as well as other significant property damage.
Many onlookers drove by throughout Monday morning to see the damage for themselves.
Elliott Clifton couldn't believe the quiet gathering he'd been a part of Sunday turned to people throwing bricks and rocks at businesses and at police.
"I got a text that things turned violent in Lynchburg, and I said, 'Wait, really? No way. It was very peaceful when I was there,'" Clifton said. "And so I was shocked. Literally, shocked. I said I didn't think it would go that way here."
He urged community members to do better. That's something Read is already trying to do himself as he spoke with several of his neighbors when they stopped by the restaurant.
"We want to work with our community and become stronger so that it doesn't happen again and that we're better for it," Read said.
And when asked if he was sorry, he said 'absolutely.'
"It was a mistake," he said quietly. "It was a foolish mistake to ever have posted [that tweet]."
Two of the protesters we spoke with were at the Black Lives Matter protest when it was still peaceful and left before things took a turn for the worse. Both were on the same side for freedom and equality, but they had two different reactions to the damage done to their community.
"No, not really," O'Hara said when we asked if she felt sorry for Read. "I'll be honest, I don't. He knew what his tweet would make people feel."
But Clifton said he was disappointed people hadn't maintained peace in the midst of the anger and pain.
"I think we're better than that," he explained. "I think we know how to protest. We know how to protest peacefully. We know how to say what we want to say without it going this way. People don't want to take you seriously if you're just going to turn to violence. If that's your only way of communicating, no one is going to want to communicate with you. You have to be able to bring about change in a way that's not violent."
Read spent much of Monday picking up the pieces of his business, one stone at a time. WDBJ7 asked what his plans are for his restaurant, if he even has plans to reopen, and he said, right now, he has no idea.
Another peaceful protest has been planned for 6 p.m. at Miller Park in Lynchburg.