Man called numerous Starbucks stores, passing along racist comments and leave nooses in multiple places.
This month the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that a Michigan man pleaded guilty to “willfully intimidating and attempting to intimidate citizens from engaging in lawful speech and protests” after his death threats to Black Lives Matter (BLM) supporters.
Kenneth Pilon, a retired eye doctor from Saginaw, Michigan, aged 61, pleaded guilty to two hate crime charges, specifically the first and fourth counts filed against him. The first count was for calling Starbucks stores across Michigan and demanding that the employees relay racially discriminatory threats to their co-workers wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts.
In total, Pilon called nine stores (located in Saginaw, Flint, Birch Run, Allen Park, Oak Park, and Ann Arbor) across the state over the course of an hour on June 14th, 2020. During these calls, Pilon also threatened to kill Black people and utilized racial slurs in referring to his intended victims.
The fourth count was for placing a noose inside a couple’s vehicle, parked in their driveway, with a handwritten note reading, “An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ t-shirt. Happy protesting!” Pilon had been leaving these nooses and notes throughout his community in the months of June and July 2020. Most were found in parking lots, but one was even found inside a 7-Eleven beverage cooler.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stated that the noose was “a vile symbol of hatred and violence that harkens back to the Jim Crow era.” She continued, “Racially-driven threats of violence simply have no place in our society today, and the Department of Justice will continue to prosecute any individual who engages in this type of threatening conduct.”
Before pleading guilty, Pilon was facing six counts of breaching a federal Title 18 rule that prohibits intentional harming or intimidation because of an individual’s race, religion, or national origin.
Speaking on the case, Special Agent in Charge James A. Tarasca of the FBI Detroit Field Office said, “Hate crimes of this nature are meant to not only threaten the victim, but to intimidate an entire community. Because of this wide-ranging impact, hate crime investigations are among the FBI’s highest priorities…We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate these crimes and to seek justice for the victims and their communities.”
The sentencing will be on March 23rd, 2023.
Threats against Black Lives Matter protesters have increased dramatically since the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, after which, the Black Lives Matter movement grew substantially. Just this year, it came out that a group of Maryland police officers were texting about killing BLM protesters in a group chat.
U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison for the Eastern District of Michigan stated, “We hope this conviction sends the message that this type of activity is criminal, and that we will take the necessary action to protect the people of our district.”