A Michigan man accused of terrorizing residents by leaving nooses and racist handwritten notes around his community to stop people from supporting Black Lives Matter has been charged with hate crimes, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Kenneth Pilon, 61, was charged with six counts of interfering with federally protected activities for incidents dating to June and July 2020, the height of nationwide protests following George Floyd's death. Floyd, a Black man, was killed May 25, 2020, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes.
Authorities allege in an affidavit that Pilon 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 several places, including a Goodwill parking lot, inside a beverage cooler at a 7-Eleven and in a Walmart parking lot.
He also left a noose and a note in a vehicle 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. Regina Simon is Mexican and white, and her ex-husband is Black.
"When he got into his truck, he noticed in the side of the door was this noose with a note attached to it," she said Wednesday. "At first I'm thinking it's a joke, somebody trying to be funny, but then I'm like this isn't funny."
Donald Simon said he felt "violated."
"I can't understand that this racism is still alive," he said.
Regina Simon took a photograph of it that she posted on Facebook. She was then contacted by the NAACP, which got the FBI involved.
Regina Simon said she wasn't going to let the note intimidate her, so her family held a protest in their community. She said she also wanted her daughter, who was 5 at the time, to know the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
"We're aware that there are people who have that feeling in their heart," she said, referring to Pilon. "But that's not going to change the way that we live. I'm not going to let somebody bring hate to our door and make us change who we are."
The affidavit further alleges that Pilon also called multiple Starbucks stores in and around Saginaw to leave derogatory messages. It alleges that when an employee would answer, Pilon would say: "Tell the Starbucks workers wearing BLM shirts that the only good n-word is a dead n-word.” He told another worker that he did not like Black Lives Matter T-shirts and that he was "gonna go out and lynch me a n-word," according to the affidavit.
Days before the calls, Starbucks had announced that it was providing Black Lives Matter shirts to employees who wanted to wear them.
Federal authorities said Pilon wanted to intimidate people "from participating lawfully in speech and peaceful assembly opposing the denial of Black people’s right to enjoy police protection and services free from brutality."
It's not clear whether Pilon has obtained an attorney.