A Facebook debate about a “Back the Blue” sign in the window of The Ground-A-Bout from Aug. 8 became nationally shared, with the original post garnering over 1,000 comments.
Brandi Nicole Wilson, who is a graduate student in mental health counseling at Southeast Missouri State University, said when she first saw the sign, her original thought was “ouch.” Wilson wrote a post on The Ground-A-Bout’s Facebook page asking them to consider taking the sign down because she saw the sign as a direct response against the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I decided to actually write the post because I liked the coffee and I wanted to go back,” Wilson said. “But the first time I was there the owners were not, and like I said I wanted to go back but that sign kinda hurt, it kinda stings a little bit. [I thought,] ‘maybe if I say something about it, they might take into consideration taking it down or maybe rewording it or something like that.’”
Through her initial post and subsequent comments, Willson thanked police officers and said she respected them and what they do. She said her concern with the sign had to do with the specific Back the Blue movement and not actual police officers.
“The reason I found it so offensive, and so many other people do because I am not the first person to find it offensive, is the fact that Back the Blue wasn’t as loud of a movement or even a movement at all until after the Black Lives Matter movement,” Wilson said. “It was a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement in effort to silence the movement. It was a way to basically diminish a movement that wanted to fix a broken system.”
Robert (Bob) Schooley, who owns and operates the store with his wife Serena, posted a response saying that they support diversity and they did not view the sign as a political statement. He said they were sorry to lose her business but the sign would remain.
“We responded the way we feel and I told her that I felt terrible that she had a negative experience here because of that. And I said we do not believe that it is exclusive,” Robert Schooley said. “We believe everyone should support their local law enforcement and it has nothing to do with politics.”
Schooley served as a deputy sheriff for three years, and another five as a reserve officer.
“My brother is a police officer,” Serena Schooley said. “He’s [Robert] a former police officer. All of our friends are police officers. It truly has nothing to do other than we want our police officers, family, to come home safe. That’s what it means, nothing else.”
Robert Schooley said several Facebook pages with a national reach and millions of followers have since picked up his response, which he initially didn’t know was public.
“I guess that response really struck a chord and it just exploded,” Robert Schooley said. “It’s been unbelievable the support we’ve received from people all over the country in every state in the union and some foreign countries have reached out to us via message, via post, via phone call. We are getting phone calls here in the shop from people who just say, ‘I wanted to talk to you to tell you that we support you guys, thank you for not removing it.’”
Wilson said the company’s response was “absolutely perfect” and was glad that they responded in a “very positive way.” However, she found some of the comments directed towards her more defensive and wished others would have engaged more with her actual point of view.
“They don’t want anybody to challenge them, which shows through their comments because they’re not willing to have the discussion,” Wilson said. “They just go straight to the defensive. I was disappointed by the hate comments.”
“Some of it has gotten very derogatory, and we did not wish for that,” Robert Schooley said. “We don’t want that for her.”
Wilson said she was fired after her post, due to some patrons protesting her place of employment and saying they wouldn’t be customers if she still worked there.
“I lost my job because of the post, and that in itself says a lot about the world we live in,” Wilson said. “You can’t even stand up for yourself in a respectful manner if you are going against what somebody else thinks. People need to take note that if you stand up for yourself and you do it in a respectful manner, you should be treated in a respectful manner.”
She said she was hurt, but not surprised by the firing. She said many people who agreed with her didn’t comment on her original post and private messaged her instead to avoid being attacked.
“It reinforces a broken system,” Wilson said. “If I talk about something that is an injustice to me, you are going to take everything that I own, so therefore that causes me not to talk which continues the prejudice.”
Wilson said she did have some positive conversations with commenters with the opposing view. She said one asked her how she felt about a company giving a discount to police officers. Wilson responded that she would support that and has supported that at places she has worked, and that it was a solution where both sides could find common ground.
“I think [Jackson] has to surround itself with people who think differently than them and being so close to Southeast Missouri State, I guess I just don’t understand why it is still such a one-sided town, because it is such a diverse population in Cape,” Wilson said. “I just think starting the conversation and talking about it is really the way we are going to start to facilitate change.”