Ice cream shop at center of protests in Gastonia

Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 6:36 PM EDT
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GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) - An ice cream shop is at the center of ongoing protests in Gastonia.

The ongoing protests are centered around Tony’s Ice Cream on East Franklin Boulevard. When police responded Wednesday night, they closed all roads near the business.

These protests started after a woman says she was discriminated against at the business Monday, when she was wearing a Black Lives Matter pin.

Police say the protests happened following some “civil disturbances” there at Tony’s Ice Cream on Monday and Tuesday.

According to police reports from Monday and Tuesday, at least two people had been arrested at the business in the past two days. Police reports say these two people were “causing a public disturbance.” One person was arrested for trespassing and the other person was arrested for simple assault.

The situation is happening at Tony’s Ice Cream on East Franklin Boulevard. All roads were...
The situation is happening at Tony’s Ice Cream on East Franklin Boulevard. All roads were closed near the business.(John Sparks/WBTV)

Lydia Robinson, a Gastonia native who lives in Raleigh, was the woman who was arrested on Monday, and claims she was discriminated against.

WBTV spoke with Robinson Wednesday night. She says she was visiting family in Gaston County when Monday’s incident took place.

Robinson says she was wearing a “Black Lives Matter” pin when she went into Tony’s Ice Cream and reportedly got “hostile looks” from staff members. She says that made her feel unwelcome.

“Racism does not have to be a word. Racism does not have to be a name that you call me. Racism can be how you fail to look at me in my eyes,” Robinson said.

Robinson was shown in a Facebook Live video outside the store complaining about her treatment. She was later charged with second-degree trespassing.

Robinson says she was discriminated against at Tony’s Ice Cream. She says she and civil rights group T.H.U.G. want to set up a sit down with the Tony’s management.

“A lady there did yell at me and say, ‘Get out, you are not wanted here.’ But that is also perceived to be what? That wasn’t anyone telling me to leave, that was being racist there, that was specific racism,” Robinson said.

On Thursday, Tony’s Ice Cream was closed. People came by to write supportive messages on their door.

“This is the greatest guy you ever want to know, Mr. Lewis here. He’s never been partial to anybody, he’s always been just an upstanding guy his whole life. And I think it was a planned deal, politically,” Tony’s Ice Cream Customer Dave Vick said.

Gaston County leaders issued a statement Thursday evening.

"The Gastonia Police Department responded to multiple events last night at Tony’s Ice Cream and the Gaston County Courthouse. Multiple agencies assisted the GPD. The police deescalated the situation and there were no injuries or property damages reported. There were multiple arrests made for various reasons and protestors dispersed by 12:00 a.m. We are hopeful that the coming days will provide continued progress towards unity for all in our City and across the country. We will continue to monitor these interactions and provide leadership. We are asking that all persons stay calm and allow our officials to work with the community as we have been doing. We are all in this together and we will all get through this together.”

Police have not provided any further details about what happened at the business on Monday.

Gastonia Police, Gaston County Police, the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, N.C. Highway Patrol, Belmont Police, Mt. Holly Police, Bessemer City Police and Lowell Police responded to the incident they say first started at 3:15 p.m on Wednesday The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department also sent a contingent of officers to assist with Wednesday’s protest.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, some people who were charged in connection with protests earlier this week had their first appearance.

There were high tensions between protesters and law enforcement, who had pushed the group across the street.

There was a heavy police presence st the courthouse on Wednesday afternoon as well.

WBTV reached out to the owner of Tony’s Ice Cream who said he didn’t have a comment for us.

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