A post showing Gretha Omey Stenger’s anti-lockdown protest sign went viral, and the Humboldt County resident was viciously slammed for the offensive sign. In the picture, Stenger can be seen standing outside the courthouse holding a sign that reads: “Muzzles are for dogs and slaves. I am a free human being.”
Next to the words was an image of a black woman wearing a face mask.
The woman on the sign is Escrava Anastacia, a revered unofficial saint in Brazil. Anastacia is believed have been of African descent and that she was forcefully enslaved by her owners in Brazil.
Stenger told Redheaded Blackbelt that she “came out to stand with people who were deeply concerned about the Stay-at-Home orders and their repercussions.” The protests outside the Humboldt County courthouse have been going on all month.
On May 15, the first controversial sign featuring Escrava Anastacia appeared in a video. It was held by Larkin Small, a local protester. “Small said it was her first time ever coming to a demonstration and that this is what it took to get her out of her house at the age of 37,” Redheaded Blackbelt wrote. Small later deleted her Instagram account.
Stenger was once employed as the drama director at Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy in Arcata. The school released an official statement addressing the viral picture: “The person being referenced in these comments is not a current employee of NPA or HCOE. Her message does not reflect the views of HCOE or NPA.”
Following the backlash, Stenger sent an official apology to the Times-Standard, saying:
“Holding that sign up at the lockdown protest was a grave mistake and I ask forgiveness from all those who I have caused pain. As I had no sign of my own, it was handed to me by another protester and a photographer took the picture before I considered the racist implications. My intent was to take a stand for the freedom of all human persons and I mistakenly held a sign that conveyed the opposite. Please know that I respect the dignity of all people and I sincerely regret any suffering it has caused.”
Sharrone Blanck, president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, explained to the Times-Standard why Stenger’s sign was particularly offensive: “The first issue is the fact that this person is equating dogs to enslaved people, specifically enslaved Africans. Then she identifies herself as a free human being — somehow above and better than people of African descent and people of color in general who were made to wear muzzles.”
“The media really needs to look at why they cover some things and not other things, and do an analysis of whether or not they cover events with people of color instead of events that are predominantly white,” Blanck added.