Customer’s Black Lives Matter button prompts ‘civil disturbance’ at NC ice cream shop

Multiple law enforcement agencies were called to a Gastonia ice cream shop Wednesday after protesters began confronting each other in a “civil disturbance.”

The source of the unrest was a dispute Monday involving a Black customer from Raleigh and a staffer at Tony’s Ice Cream, at 604 E. Franklin Boulevard, according to the Charlotte Observer’s news partner WBTV.

The customer — identified as Lydia Maria Sturgues-Robinson — told WBTV and other news outlets she received “unfair treatment” Monday at the shop due to a Black Lives Matter button worn on her shirt. The incident has led protesters to gather at the site the past two nights.

A video of Robinson airing her grievances outside the shop was posted on YouTube, and includes accusations the large police presence was racially motivated.

“This is what is wrong with America,” the woman says in the video. “Because there is a Black woman with a voice, a Black woman with intellectual ability, a Black woman that is clearly only, only right now doing what the Constitution gives her a right to do, they called the police.”

The shop’s management told WSOC the incident in the store did not involve discrimination and was “a misunderstanding between the young woman and a cashier.”

Sturgues-Robinson was arrested outside the shop Monday and charged with second-degree trespassing, WBTV reports. She was released “on an unsecured bond,” the Gaston Gazette reported.

Opposing groups have gathered outside the shop Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the Shelby Star. The groups of protesters have “exchanged words” at times, but only one arrest was reported Tuesday, involving a Belmont man charged with assault on a government employee, the Gaston Gazette reported.

On Wednesday, between 150 and 200 protesters and counter protesters gathered outside the shop, including some armed with “assault-style weapons,” according to WSOC. The armed group identified itself as “the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense,” the station reported. The station reported a counter-protest group included some carrying Confederate battle flags.

TV station WCNC described the scene Wednesday as “a standoff between protesters and anti-protesters” that forced police to close that part of Franklin Boulevard.

Gaston County Police issued a press release saying the N.C. Highway Patrol and officers from Gastonia, Belmont, Mt. Holly, Bessemer City, Cherryville and Lowell responded “to a mass gathering that started at 3:15 p.m.” and successfully dispersed the crowd.

Shop owner Tony Coletta told the Gaston Gazette he regretted Robinson was arrested. “I want people to know we do not discriminate, and we just want people to be happy and comfortable in our store,” he told the Gazette Tuesday.

*story by The Charlotte Observer