NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A North Kingstown landmark has found itself at the center of controversy that’s received national attention, however as of Wednesday it hasn’t seemed to negatively impact the business too as the line of hungry customers wrapped around the building.
Allie’s Donuts announced in a post to their Instagram Saturday that they were ending a longstanding discount policy for police officers and military service personnel, in response to an incident in Providence last week where Providence firefighter Terrell Paci, who is black, said he was racially profiled while in uniform by two Providence police officers outside of the Messer Street fire station. Paci said the officers drew their guns on him despite him identifying himself as a Providence firefighter.
“A note to the officer who profiled the Providence firefighter the other night: this is an example of a terrible job performance,”owner Matt Drescher wrote in the post on Allie’s Donuts’ Instagram. “If you were an athlete, you would be cut from your team. If you were our employee, we would fire you immediately. But, you are a Police Officer. And despite being the ones responsible for protecting the law, you may be considered ‘above it’ (and) face (zero) consequences for your mistakes.”
“We’re fed up,” Drescher added. “Until local police take action to solve the problem with racism (and) injustice, (Allie’s Donuts) will choose to stand with the people of our great state. We will no longer offer military or police discounts. Thank you for your service, and shame on you for your silence.”
The post — coincidentally coming on the anniversary of the D-Day landings of World War II — quickly drew responses as it was shared on social media, with many voicing their anger towards what they felt was an insult to law enforcement officers and both active duty military and veterans, with some calling for a boycott of the popular donut shop.
“The military is not to blame for what’s going on,” Ashley Ackert wrote in a petition titled “Allies Donuts should not take away Military and Police discounts!!!” on Change.org. “To take away a military discount is the same thing as taking away your respect for the men and women who fight for us.”
“Let’s start talking about how to lift (up) our community and not tear it down,” the North Kingstown Police Department wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post. “Police themselves aren’t the problem: racism is the problem.”
Many others also came to the support of Allie’s and Drescher, applauding them for making a statement in protest of policing policies, particularly in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police officers in recent weeks.
“If you’re more upset about police losing a discount for donuts than a black man losing his life, (then) you need to re-evaluate your values,” a post shared in the “Our Town: North Kingstown” Facebook group wrote.
On Sunday morning, Drescher took to Instagram again to clarify his statements in a post titled “Dear Rhode Island, from the desk of Allie’s Donuts.”
“Reflecting on our method of delivery, we imagine most of you were surprised by our candor,” Drescher wrote. “In no way did we mean to insult people (and) their service to our country or community… If you felt offended or insulted, please accept our apology. We feel comfortable, as a business with such wonderful customers that have respected (and) adored our products for over 50 years to say that we stand by our statement. It’s time to recognize the voices (and) stand with our fellow Black (and) Brown Rhode Islanders, who want to be treated equally”
Drescher urged community members to help find ways to help end systematic racism in both the area and beyond.
“We have decided to speak out and use our privilege to actively eliminate these things,” Drescher wrote. “We recognize that you may have misunderstood our meaning, and think that Allie’s doesn’t value the sacrifice and duty of our police (and) military members. I assure you. We do.”
Sunday saw long lines at Allie’s, with some customers waiting over an hour and a half for donuts, which sold out by 12:30 p.m. All donuts were free as well per Allie’s, instead encouraging patrons to donate to the Amos House, RI Communities for Justice and the Providence Student Union. Some showed up holding Black Lives Matter signs, while others across the street held signs deriding the donut shop for their decision.
“You can easily misconstrue the amount of people that came out to support us and to tell us that they love us and to tell us thank you for not only doing what we’ve just done in the last 48 hours but to thank us for being us for the last 50 years,” Drescher said in a video posted to Allie’s Instagram Sunday afternoon. “I’ll tell you, it’s not about the number of people, it’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality and we got a lot of quality today.”
Drescher thanked those who came out and showed their support, as well as those he talked with who disagreed with his views, calling on others to talk with each other as Americans to find an understanding.
“I love having conversations with everybody,” Drescher said. “I want every single radio station, talk radio station to keep sending me phone calls because I’ve met a lot of cool people. I’ve met a ton of respectable individuals that have a completely opposite take on all of the things that I have ever believed in my life, and I’ve seen the other side, and the more information you have, the better you are at making decisions, so let’s do that. Let’s talk about things.”
He also addressed how his message came across and what he wanted to do with it.
“Let’s also not insult people or make them feel like someone wants them to be their enemy and I just have to say, one of the mistakes I made in the last 24 hours because man I am human as human can be and we all make mistakes, that message didn’t really convey my intention,” Drescher said. “I just wanted to take away a privilege from people so that we could all be equal and make a donut worth the same amount to every person who wanted one, worth the same amount of time waiting in line and with no special orders or circumstances, with the same dollar amount, but in that process, when I wrote the words ‘shame on you for your silence’ in my post and decided to take something away, to rip something that people who felt that they were entitled to because of their amazing qualities and their superhero-like nature as everyone in a military branch and all of the police officers that do good in society and you know what I’m talking about, it was a little bit of a disservice and there’s a lot of people out there that have their own opinions that we should all be thinking about.”
He also said he didn’t want his words twisted and that he has no ill will towards members of the military, pointing to friends and family members who have or currently are serving in the Armed Forces.
“I have relatives in the military, it’s just like that wasn’t the point and it’s been twisted and my words, I get it, the tact was wrong, the approach was wrong,” Drescher wrote. “We’re here for change, we’re here for progress, we’re not here to divide. This isn’t something where we need to separate each other, we need to bring people together.”
While he apologized for how his words came across, he said he still stood by his statement.
“I’m sorry that I disrespected your sacrifice and duty to the people of this country that you don’t even know, but I stand by my statement,” Drescher wrote. “We need to stand up for the people that have been wronged for ages, for years, like why wouldn’t we want to stand up for them? Black people built this country.”
He called on people to research the history of American slavery and the spice trade and to understand the pain African-Americans go through.
“Our privilege and the advantages that we have as Americans was built on the backs of people that we were taking advantage of at the time and using as commodities, and somehow along that way we never thanked them but instead we imprisoned them and then along that way when they got their freedom they were then told to act and live a certain way because of their inability to be like us and then after that, I don’t know,” Drescher wrote. “Nothing changed.”
By Monday, the story had reached both regional and national newspapers such as the Boston Globe and Miami Herald as well as cable news networks such as Fox News, where former NYPD officer and conservative talk show host Dan Bongino labeled the original post as “obviously anti-police” in an interview with “Fox & Friends” and accused Drescher of stereotyping police officers, which he compared to stereotyping people by race.
“What I don’t understand is by trying to face down racial inequality and stereotyping, you’re stereotyping the cops?,” Bongino said.
While crowds weren’t as large as Sunday, Monday and Tuesday both saw decent showings, with Allie’s running out of donuts before their 4 p.m. closing.
Drescher took to the Allie’s Instagram page Tuesday afternoon where he posted a video of himself working at the shop alone, claiming many of his employees expressed concern over their safety due to threats the donut shop had been receiving.
“Due to all of the unfortunate threats that we’ve gotten and just the climate that it is, a lot of my employees just don’t feel safe working here now,” Drescher said. “So, I respect their choice. They’re safe at home, nothing has happened to their job but now I’m the only one cutting donuts. So, I’m here right now, have the mixes on the table and I’m going to make as many as I can because we do have a lot of supporters. If you’re driving by, just shoot a couple beeps at me. I’ll see if I can wave. Love you all.”
On Wednesday however, a change of plans seemed to occur as the shop was fully staffed, with Drescher putting out a message via Twitter that they will not be intimidated.
“I can only speak for myself, and I will say this: (do not let fear win),” Drescher said via Twitter. “I have faith in our community. I trust our local police (and) our surrounding neighbors to support us if we were in need, as we would support them.”
Customers didn’t seem to be too concerned, with many coming to support both the business and their message.
“I love the donuts and I want to support them at this time,” Emma Viveiors of Smithfield said. “I think they showed their support for the (Black Lives Matter) movement in a polite and reasonable way and I think that we should support them in what they said about police.”