An Oct. 1 Black Lives Matter Unity March in Georgetown was marred, organizers said, by an altercation between the owner of a Front Street restaurant and a black restaurant employee who says she was fired on the spot for supporting the marchers.
Just after 7 p.m. on Oct. 1, a group of about 40 marchers passed the Seven Hundred Modern Grill and Bar, 916 Front St., chanting requests for peace and unity. Several diners and owner John Cranston came outside. One diner shook the hands of marchers and gave several of them hugs, while Cranston, stood in the doorway before coming out onto the sidewalk, yelling at the marchers, asking them what they were doing and who was killing them.
“Who is killing you? Nobody is killing you – I don’t see anyone killing you,” Cranston yelled at the marchers. “Who are you, who are we killing? I don’t see anyone getting killed.”
The marchers continued on, and once they reached King Street, the group crossed Front Street and headed back to East Bay Park. After they had passed Groucho’s Deli, 913 Front St., they were approached by a young black woman who identified herself as Kiana Knowlin. Knowlin told the group she had just been fired by Cranston for supporting the march.
“I can’t believe he fired me for supporting the marchers,” Knowlin told a Georgetown Times reporter on the scene. “He was making fun of them and laughing at them and I couldn’t believe it. I wanted him to stop and then he started cussing at me and fired me right then and there.”
The marchers stopped briefly and huddled around Knowlin, hugging her and encouraging her to stand up for herself, before they proceeded on to the park.
“I am so sorry, I am so, so sorry,” march organizer Kristina Davis told Knowlin. “I can’t believe he fired you for supporting us – that’s just wrong.”
Knowlin told the marchers that Cranston cursed at her and told her that “black people are the problem.”
“He said we, black people, were the problem,” Knowlin said, “and then he told me, ‘You are … fired.”
The Times asked Cranston on the scene if he did fire Knowlin, which he refused to answer, though he did say, “She worked here today.” He also refused to give his last name, saying, “Look it up,” though he did identify himself as the restaurant’s owner.
After speaking with the Times, Cranston left his restaurant and proceeded to stand in the middle of Front Street, raising his hands and yelling at the marchers. Several marchers walked Knowlin to her car, and then they caught up with the group and proceeded to East Bay Park with no further incidents.
Juanita Weems, who participated in the march, said she was “shocked and sickened” to learn that Knowlin had been fired. “It just goes to show that there really is no equality nowadays,” Weems said. “it just makes us feel like we are nothing. …
“If our lives matter, if black lives really do matter, then what just happened to that young lady when she voiced support for a peaceful march down Front Street?”
O’shaughnessy Williams helped Davis organize the march and she said she was “disgusted and appalled” with Cranston’s actions and words as the group passed his Front Street business.
“I just can’t believe this, what he was saying to us as we peacefully marched down the sidewalk makes me sick,” Williams said. “We came in peace and I am very proud of our group though, they did as we instructed before we ever left the park. … They continued marching, did not engage in any negativity and helped spread the message of peace and unity.”
Participants said the BLM group was comprised of Georgetown city and county residents, who planned a “peaceful” march to show its support for the BLM movement.
“We are here today to march in support and to help raise awareness,” Willimas told the group of marchers, just before they departed East Bay Park to march down Front Street. “We are here in peace, and this will be a peaceful march. Those of you marching with your children, keep them near you, and if anyone along the route says anything negative to you, continue to march, and focus on our mission of peace and unity.”
On Sunday, Oct. 2, the Times reached out to Cranston and Knowlin. Cranston told the newspaper that he and Knowlin exchanged words about the appropriateness of the march passing in front of his restaurant. At first, Cranston said he did not fire Knowlin, but later, during the interview, he said he did fire her for supporting the march while she was on duty as the restaurant’s hostess.
“Do I want them in front of my restaurant on a Saturday night? No,” Cranston said. “She had a choice, and I told her, ‘If that’s what you think you want to do, go ahead and do it, but I’ll have to fire you if that’s what you want to do.’ … She made her choice, and I fired her.”
Knowlin, however, told the Times that she never asked to join the march. She was fired, she said, for explaining the marchers’ intent to Cranston.
“I never asked him if I could join the march because I didn’t want to join the march – I was working,” Knowlin said. “I stood in the doorway, right next to him. He said he didn’t understand why they were marching, and I told him it was because they were protesting black people being shot by white people. … He didn’t understand that, and I said, ‘Really?’ And then he spazzed out on me, started cursing at me and then he told me I was … fired.”
Knowlin said after she was fired, she clocked out, gathered her belongings, left the building, spoke with the marchers and then got in her car and drove home.
During his Oct. 2 interview with the Times, Cranston confirmed he did say he told Knowlin “black people were the problem” with regard to the BLM cause.
“Yeah, I said it – I tend to believe it,” Cranston said. “This isn’t a black/white thing and they seem to be making it more of that. You have a black cop who shot a black man in Charlotte – I just don’t get it, I don’t understand it. … And then you have a bunch of them get together and loot and vandalize more businesses – which has nothing to do with it.”
Cranston said he was very protective of Front Street, and, in his opinion, it was the wrong time and the wrong place for a protest.
“If anything goes wrong on Front Street – I get nervous,” Cranston said. “I don’t want anybody in a gang atmosphere on a Saturday night in front of my restaurant. … No, wait, don’t make a quote like that; say a group of people.”
Cranston said Knowlin was a “great” employee and he would be happy to “take her back” if that is what she wanted. He added he hopes that the two of them can sit down and talk the situation over.
Knowlin said she has no intentions of returning to her position as a hostess at Cranston’s restaurant.
“I will never work for him again,” Knowlin said. “I was humiliated that he would talk to me the way he did in front of customers, and I was embarrassed as a black woman that he would mock the marchers the way he did. … He asked me to explain why the protesters were marching. I did, and then he fired me for answering him with my thoughts on the march.”
Knowlin said she is still in shock over being fired, but also said she is researching her legal options in regards to the incident.
“I think everyone has the right to look into their legal rights, and that is exactly what I am doing at this time,” Knowlin said.