A local restaurant in Spokane, Washington took the “I Can’t Breathe” slogan popularized by many who protested the death of Eric Garner in New York over the Summer and put their own spin on it.
If you visit Hillside Inn Restaurant on Nevada street, you will see a sign that reads, “Shorty Can’t Breathe Either.” The sign was put up by Annie Pennington, whose family runs the restaurant. She said the sign was meant to honor Delbert Belton, a World War II veteran who was beaten to death in August 2013.
“We did it in honor of Shorty because he’s a selfless old man, and if we don’t take care of our grandpas, no one will,” she said.
Belton - who happens to be white - was a regular at the diner. The vet was also good friends with Pennington’s father. A teenager by the name of Kenan Adams-Kinard - who happens to be black - pleaded guilty in Belton’s death and another unidentified person will be tried in March, according to the The Spokesman-Review.
Pennington said that she saw the way people rallied around Garner’s death and thought that Belton deserved equal support. She said the sign was not meant to be “racial,” and that it was more about the people in the community - many of whom are retired and some of which are veterans - being tired of crime in their neighborhood.
Despite Pennington’s intentions behind the sign, NAACP President Rachel Dolezal was concerned about how others might interpret it.
“Even if the intention is not associated with that (the I Can’t Breathe movement), using the same words implies an association,” she said, adding that Pennington could have made a point about Belton’s death using a totally different slogan. “People will connect it to that issue.”
Dolezal, who learned about the sign after being called by a reporter for a comment, visited Pennington hoping to explain to her how the black population might perceive her message.
“It’s just really sad, because it seems like it’s potentially a confusion of the intention behind the I Can’t Breathe movement,” she said. She added that the intention of the I Can’t Breathe movement was to bring attention to a long history of violence against black people all over the country, especially in cases of police brutality and cases where the perpetrators go unpunished.
Unfortunately, the conversation between Dolezal and Pennington did not go well. Dolezal said that Pennington “just got really defensive and basically demanded that I leave.”
Pennington, who declined to speak about the encounter, called Spokane City Councilman, Mike Fagan, and told him that two people had gone into the restaurant to tell her that the sign was racist. Dolezal said she was not one of those two people.
Regulars at the diner who believe Belton’s killer deserves a harsher punishment stand by the sign as well.
“The plea bargain was not looked on favorably by the customers that come in here,” said Rebecca Franklin, referring to Adams-Kinard’s 20-year prison sentence.
Dolezal said that even though her discussion with Pennington didn’t go well, she hopes it will encourage more community discussion.
“It’s a public statement,” Dolezal said. “The dialogue is going to happen, whether it was intended or not.”