Chris Sommers, the owner of Pi Pizzeria, a St. Louis restaurant, wouldn’t call himself an anti-police activist.
He offers cops a 50 percent discount at his shop. He’s given money to law enforcement groups, he told HuffPost, and considers himself a supporter of the police force.
But that didn’t stop St. Louis police from shooting pepper pellets “indiscriminately” at his pizza shop last Friday, shortly after he had handed out cups of water to try to calm tensions between police and protesters, he says—or from lobbing a tear gas canister at him and his customers.
“You generally want to be friendly with the police,” he told HuffPost this week. “And then they shoot at you.”
When he spoke out about the police’s actions on social media after the Friday confrontation, he says the police union pushed back, urging activists to call him to give him a piece of their mind.
A publication called “Blue Lives Matter” published an article featuring posts Sommers wrote on Twitter calling some police officers “dimwits” for their actions. At the end of the story, the publication says: “Let’s get the word out that if you bash the police, you won’t be getting our business,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
That story was then shared by the St. Louis County Police Organization, the Post-Dispatch reports.
“We have been busy protecting everyone's free speech during the demonstrations. Here are the numbers if you feel like your freedom of speech needs a little exercise.... “ the police union wrote on Facebook, listing phone numbers for the pizzeria, according to the Post-Dispatch.
The police organization has since deleted the post. Joe Patterson, president of the St. Louis County Police union, told KMOV that it was taken down so employees wouldn’t get harrassed.
“I think Chris has learned his lesson that words have consequences,” Patterson told the TV station.
But Sommers says the phone at his restaurant has been ringing off the hook with calls harassing him and his staff, he says.
It started when Sommers handed out water to a crowd protesting on Friday night, after the acquittal of a former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, who was on trial for killing a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, in 2011.
Sommers realized his pizzeria would be in the path of the protests, which is why he went out to try to cool tensions. He wrote on Facebook that he hoped the small act of handing out water would “prevent damage to my building.”
“We did this for likely an hour, until all signs of a protest had moved on,” Sommers wrote. “We made a few friends along the way, and saw many of our amazing guests in the peaceful protest.”
Once it looked like his business was in the clear, Sommers said he decided to head home to his family.
But on the drive home, he saw “a wall of militarized police marching in line to our corner.”
“They were approaching an empty block, marching by themselves with gas masks, guns and shields,” he wrote. “I immediately stopped my car and ran back to my restaurant, still baffled why they were coming our way.”
As he went back to his pizzeria, Sommers said police began shooting “indiscriminately” into the air, at no one in particular.
That’s when Sommers says he lost his temper.
“[I] screamed at them for terrorizing our guests and hiding behind their shields and guns when there were zero agitators on our corner,” Sommers wrote. “Cars were driving freely, unimpeded by anyone blocking the street.”
Then, the police started approaching his restaurant.
“After they threw a tear gas canister at me (again, on video), a guy next to me picked it up and threw it back at them,” Sommers said. “They certainly didn't like that, and finally crossed the street, rushing at me as I ran into my restaurant and barely got the door closed before they could break in.”
Sommers also wrote on Facebook that he’s upset that the disagreement has escalated so much given his past support for the police.
“Cops eat either for free or 50% off every time they dine with us in uniform. I donate to all of their non-profits and events, any time they ask,” he wrote. “But that doesn't matter. No good deed goes unpunished.”