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BLM activists' 'extortion' attempt of local restaurants backfires as Cuban owners fight back

In Louisville, KY, a Cuban restauranteur reported that his business was targeted by BLM with "mafia tactics" and threats as a tool of intimidation.
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

In Louisville, KY, a Cuban restaurateur reported that his business was targeted by BLM with "mafia tactics" and threats as a tool of intimidation. This according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Fernando Martinez is a partner in a restaurant group in Louisville and operates La Bodeguita de Mima in the NuLu neighbourhood, on East Market Street. On Facebook, Martinez wrote "there comes a time in life that you have to make a stand and you have to really prove your convictions and what you believe in." He said that "all good people need to denounce this. How can you justified [sic] injustice with more injustice?"

Martinez said this his restaurant closed on July 24 when a demonstration halted business and traffic on East Market Street. At that time, Martinez said he was approached by activists distributing their demands, who said that he "better put the letter on the door so your business is not f***ed with."

Martinez kept his restaurant closed for two days due to concerns over the safety of their primarily immigrant workforce of over thirty people. Since then, he reported that the restaurant "has been subject to vandalism and extortion in recent days." This has included some property damage to flower pots outside the restaurant.

The demands, which came as part of a multi-page contract businesses were asked to sign, were related to "NuLu social justice health and wellness ratings," explained local BLM activist Phelix Crittenden. They were to "adequately represent the Black population of Louisville by having a minimum of 23 percent Black staff; purchase a minimum of 23 percent inventory from Black retailers or make a recurring monthly donation of 1.5 percent net sales to a local Black nonprofit or organization; require diversity and inclusion training for all staff members on a bi-annual basis; and display a visible sign that increases awareness and shows support for the reparations movement."

"Repercussions of non-compliance" are also listed. "Failure to accept and adhere to this contract will result in the following measures: Reduction in Racial Index Score/bias report to the Better Business Bureau; Social Media Blast: Notification, via all social media platforms, of non-compliance; Boycott: Public boycott. coordinated through social media and mail announcements, of your NuLu establishment AND any other business ventures owned by you; Protest: Visible, media-covered demonstration/sit-in outside your establishment; Invasive Reclamation: Placement of booths/tables outside your establishment where competing Black proprietors will offer items comparable to those offered by you."

This was part of a contract, Crittenden said, that other local businesses signed. To Crittenden, these businesses are also prepared to talk about their role in the revitalization of the area, which area activists contend happened at the expense of the black community. The removal of a housing project in 2004 displaced hundreds of families, and this is a stone of contention between activists and the businesses of the NuLu neighbourhood.

Crittenden said that "NuLu is flourishing. To see that literal line in the sand, as soon as you cross the street, it's very disturbing. NuLu doesn't reflect the community they sit in and claim to incorporate and serve."

The Cuban community has come together behind its Louisville businesses, and they held a rally to show that support on Sunday afternoon.

Martinez kept his restaurant closed over the weekend, and at the Sunday rally, he explained that advancing socialism was why he left Cuba in the first place. He stated that he has no issue with the black community of Louisville. The Louisville Courier Post reported on the rally.

"We're here to work," he said, "we're dreamers. We're people who love freedom and love this country. This is not a race fight. This is an idea fight."

"With the internet nowadays," Martinez said, "you're easily and quickly discounted and disqualified. 'Oh, you don't agree with everything I believe? You're a racist, you're a bigot, and that's that.' There's people out there trying to define me as a man and trying to define my business, and they don’t know who we are."

Signs at the rally read "No 2 socialism in America," "Justice for All" and "We Are Peaceful People But Don't Tread On Us." The crowd was diverse, with white, black, and hispanic Kentuckians in attendance.

BLM organizer Talesha Wilson said that the businesses owners who did not want to cave to extortion demands under threat of intimidation were "childish" and "performative." Wilson said Martinez should have spoken to BLM activists directly rather than stage a public protest. She said that "There were ways for him to deal with it other than calling out a whole movement of people."

"He needs to take into consideration that there are going to be bad apples everywhere," Wilson said. Other BLM activists shared their dismay that Martinez chose not to adhere to the demands and went public over this refusal.

Sadiqa Reynolds, CEO of Louisville Urban League, wrote on Facebook that "I understand that the owner of La Bodeguita De Mimi [sic] has decided to proactively organize against the idea that Black Lives Matter. Rather than respond to demands tendered, even in the negative, and affirm that he is aware of the pain our people are in, instead he chooses to highlight what he believes is his superiority." Reynolds went on to say that she would not be patronizing Martinez's establishments.

A member of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Kentucky spoke in support of the Cuban American business owners that were concerned about their ability to do business under threat of intimidation. Ahamara Brewster called the tactics of BLM activists "terroristic."

She said "That was another thing that was upsetting: You're attacking a Black/brown establishment, but you’re in the name of Black Lives Matter. Something’s weird about this."

Like many American cities, Louisville was rocked by protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd's death. Louisville was the site of Breonna Taylor's death from police fire, and her name has been a rallying cry for both Kentuckians and across the country.

Here are the full list of demands:

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