DETROIT — A judge sentenced a Michigan man to 10 months in federal prison Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to two hate crime charges for intimidating and attempting to intimidate people protesting in support of Black Lives Matter.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington also sentenced Kenneth Pilon, 62, of Saginaw to one-year of supervised release.
Pilon was accused of calling nine Starbucks stores in Michigan and telling the employees answering his calls to relay racial threats to Starbucks employees wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts. Pilon also threatened to kill Black people, prosecutors said.
He allegedly left the messages two days after Starbucks announced in 2020 that it would provide 250,000 Black Lives Matter T-shirts to employees who wanted to wear them during their shifts amid protests condemning the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after the officer, who is white, pressed his knee to the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes. A bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe.” His death touched off protests around the world, some of which turned violent, and forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.
An affidavit alleges Pilon also went to stores in Saginaw, leaving nooses attached to a note that read: “An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ t-shirt. Happy protesting!” The messages were found in Goodwill and Walmart parking lots and inside a 7-Eleven beverage cooler.
Pilon also left a noose and a note in a car owned by Regina Simon and her then-husband, Donald Simon, according to the affidavit.
Regina Simon said she thinks her family was targeted after Pilon drove by and saw her in her yard wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt her son made. They found the note and the noose the next day when her husband went to get coffee, she told NBC News in April 2022.
“The nooses, the threat letters, and the calls to Starbucks were all intended to terrorize the targeted victims solely because of their race,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.