Rivioli’s Restaurant was closed four years ago, but has found itself in the midst of a national controversy for a sign put up six years ago.
As the country protests the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Rivioli’s sign went viral on Thursday because of its words: “I can breathe I obey law." Floyd had been repeating “I can’t breathe” over and over shortly before his death.
Rivioli’s sign was put up in 2014 in response to Eric Garner’s death, who died after a York City police officer put him in a chokehold. Garner was also saying “I can’t breathe” shortly before his death.
Rivioli’s, which became popular because of MTV’s Jersey Shore, closed after 30 years of business. The family now owns and operates Rivoli’s Grill and Chill in Howell and Riv’s Toms River Hub.
An apology on Rivoli’s Grill and Chill’s Facebook page read: “We apologize for our projection at our old restaurant. What was done to George Floyd on Monday is a disgrace and there is NO way we support that. The post that is circulating right now is from over 6 years and if I could go back in time I wouldn’t posted that on my signage. Again, we apologize.”
Tony Rivioli, owner of the restaurant, told NJ Advance Media Friday that Floyd’s death was “an American tragedy,” that he regrets the sign he put up after Garner’s death.
“I think it hurt people,” he said. “I thought I was doing something pro-law enforcement and it didn’t go well... Sometimes you do things, maybe you don’t think straight, maybe you’re thinking with emotion, and you make a decision that you can’t take back. I got four grandchildren. I swear on all my grandchildren, I would never post that in 2014 again.”
In 2014, Rivioli defended the sign in an interview with Bill Spadea.
“Police are trained to do a job. They do that job according to their training, they get cleared by a grand jury, and people can’t accept the truth. The truth of the matter is, just don’t break the law, it’s kind of a simple thing to do, don’t break the law, you will not have trouble with the police,” he said.
He stated that he had gotten death threats, and that some people had compared him to Hitler.
“Anyone that knows me knows I’m the furthest thing from a racist,” he said during the interview.