Lydia Sturgues-Robinson, a 31-year-old first year law school student from Gastonia, said she’s received death threats in the wake of tense protests that have erupted at and near Tony’s Ice Cream on East Franklin Boulevard in the wake of her arrest for trespassing Monday night.
“It is very heavy,” Sturgues-Robinson said. “It hurts I’m getting death threats, people are sending pornographic material to my phone. I am getting death threats over ice cream.”
Despite that, she said Thursday she’s willing to sit down with the ownership of Tony’s Ice Cream to discuss the situation.
Sturgues-Robinson made her remarks at a hastily-called press conference outside the downtown Gastonia branch of the Gaston County Public Library.
Sturgues-Robinson said she believes an interaction with an employee of Tony’s went south because she was wearing a Black Lives Matter button Monday night .
“I was treated unfairly, simply put,” Sturgues-Robinson said. “It doesn’t have to do with an eye roll. It was a feeling. You could feel it, tension. It was the way she failed to look me in the my eyes and address me as a person. It was the way she failed to speak to me. It was the way she interacted with the customers prior to me.”
Sturgues-Robinson said that sparked an incident that led to another Tony’s employee yelling at her to get out, and, “You are not wanted here,” after which she said she paid for her ice cream and walked out the door.
That sparked comments from Tony’s patrons in the parking lot that Sturgues-Robinson described as antagonistic.
“When they did that I said, ’How can I fight in the streets (against) injustice every single day and not stand up for myself,” Sturgues-Robinson said. “And I took the opportunity to have an impromptu protest.”
Police soon arrived and Sturgues-Robinson said she was doing nothing wrong, but was told the diner’s management wanted her cited for trespassing.
Less than a minute later, she said, Gastonia police took her into custody in front of the restaurant but while Sturgues-Robinson was standing on the sidewalk.
She was later transported for medical treatment, then to the Gaston County Jail, where she was later released on an unsecured bond.
Tense protests followed on Tuesday and Wednesday stemming, at least in part, from Sturgues-Robinson’s arrest.
Protesters clashed in the parking lot of Tony’s on Tuesday, leading at least one person to draw a gun. Two people were arrested in that instance.
Wednesday night, protests continued for hours as demonstrators, some self-described as members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense, marched openly with weapons.
Witnesses said white men with weapons were also on scene near Tony’s.
Police blocked off portions of East Franklin Boulevard and areas near the Gaston County Courthouse, and the protests were later dispersed by police, with multiple arrests coming Wednesday.
The majority of those arrests were of black men and women, according to police records.
Sturgues-Robinson said enjoying Tony’s Ice Cream has been a family tradition since she was a little girl.
“It’s something that I hold sacred,” Sturgues-Robinson said. “It’s something that I do every time I’m in Gastonia.”
Tony’s Ice Cream management characterized the confrontation inside the store Monday as a misunderstanding between a cashier and Sturgues-Robinson.
“I hate that that lady, Ms. Sturgues-Robinson, got arrested (Monday) , and I want people to know we do not discriminate, and we just want people to be happy and comfortable in our store,” Owner Tony Coletta said Tuesday after the protest in Tony’s parking lot.
Sturgues-Robinson said she’s willing to sit down with Coletta and Tony’s management and said she’s hopeful.
“I would anticipate it will go well,” Sturgues-Robinson said. “At this point they’ve let out a long apologetic statement to The Gazette. They did not reach out to me, but they did, in The Gazette, let out a frank apology, though not to me. So I am hopeful. I want to see what they say. I think that again, effective communication is important.”