A downtown Tacoma business owner is facing accusations of racism and the wrath of social media after he inserted himself into a civil protest Sunday.
Les Voros-Bond, an owner of Dorky’s Arcade at Ninth Street and Pacific Avenue, used a bullhorn, music, a siren and racist language during his public tirade.
He was reacting to a protest organized by Tacoma Stands Up, a grass-roots group that calls for an end to police brutality and social injustice through peaceful action.
The group marches every Sunday. The most recent assembly attracted about 30 demonstrators marking the anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
Starting from 21st Street, the multiracial group walked north on Pacific Avenue and arrived at Ninth and Pacific about 20 minutes later, according to marcher Georgia Greco- Georgantis.
She shot and posted a roughly four-minute video of the 25-minute incident to Facebook, and it began spreading quickly. The post was doubling in views about every hour Monday morning.
By 6 p.m. it had nearly 55,000 views and was leading to threats against Voros-Bond and his employees.
After the video was posted to YouTube, a commenter said of Voros-Bond: “He could suffer an accident or some other surprise he wasn’t expecting. These things happen from time to time.”
Voros-Bond and girlfriend Caroline Dennewith own Dorky’s, which specializes in older-style video games and other amusements. They’ve run the arcade for the past five years and employ 10 people.
In an interview Monday with The News Tribune, Voros-Bond said he didn’t plan to intervene in the march but was annoyed by the protesters blocking the street in what he called an aggressive manner.
In the video, Voros-Bond can first be seen dancing to the music coming from his bullhorn as he weaves in and out of the marchers.
“At first I was just goofing around,” he said. “Then I was helping direct traffic. I wasn’t really informed of their cause. Then it escalated to where they were pushing me around.”
“They kept calling me the N-word and threatening me,” said Voros-Bond, who is of Hungarian descent.
Voros-Bond said he is not a racist but admits he used the N-word Sunday.
“I repeated it: ‘I’m an N-word?’” he said. “They were straight up calling me that.”
On their Facebook page and in interviews, protesters said Voros-Bond made disparaging remarks and urged a man on a motorcycle to run down the demonstrators.
Voros-Bond denied those charges.
While there are several videos of the incident, it’s difficult to hear what Voros-Bond is saying. They show him and the protesters bumping and brushing against one another.
When one of Voros-Bond’s employees saw him making physical contact with the protesters, he joined the group. He also had a bullhorn.
In an interview with The News Tribune, Greco-Georgantis said Voros-Bond called her African-American son the N-word.
“To see somebody shout that at your son’s face was heartbreaking,” she said. “It was terrifying for us to see so much hatred.”
Police officers at the scene were blocking traffic a block away.
“They totally have been protecting us,” Greco-Georgantis said of police during the weekly marches. “They sometimes cut the traffic off. They are very understanding with us.”
Voros-Bond said he called police five times Sunday to report the marchers. Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said neither Voros-Bond nor the protesters broke any laws but that both could be considered as having obstructed traffic.
After about 50 minutes a police supervisor approached the group and they left the intersection, Cool said. Traffic was light during the protest.
Voros-Bond interacted with the protesters for about 25 minutes, both sides agree.
On Monday, he said he regretted his actions, a conclusion he said he reached shortly after the incident and long before the social media storm hit.
“I went in (to Dorky’s) and talked to Caroline and realized how stupid I was,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in a protest before.”
He said he went back out to where the protesters were still staged at the intersection.
“I went up to the head guy and apologized to him,” Voros-Bond said. “I gave them hugs. I told them I was just goofing off in the beginning. I was just being a jerk.
“I didn’t even know about the cause. I didn’t even know what Black Lives Matter was.”
Tacoma Stands Up organizers are skeptical.
They could not be reached Monday, but in a post on their Facebook page they said his change of heart came because somebody posted a negative comment to Dorky’s Facebook page while the protest was still being held.
The organizers also reject Voros-Bond’s apology and call for a boycott of Dorky’s because of his “outrageous display of hatred and violence.”
“We call on your solidarity to reject supporting a business which is owned by an individual who engages in such anti-black, sexist, and violent practices against community members and prospective patrons,” the statement says.
In the video, Voros-Bond is wearing a Ninkasi Brewing Co. T-shirt. Soon, the Oregon-based company was weighing in on social media.
“We are deeply disappointed by the actions of this bar owner and regret our logo being associated with such behavior,” Ninkasi said in a statement. “We’ll no longer support Dorky’s and will continue to work with people who believe in equality for all.”
Bad reviews and negative comments were piling up on Yelp and Google and social media outlets.
While she was defending her boyfriend’s character on Monday, Dennewith said she wasn’t happy with his behavior at the protest.
“I was totally on the side of the protesters,” she said.
Dennewith, who is of Korean and Norwegian ethnicity, said she has experienced racism and won’t tolerate it.
“I got bullied and picked on every day because my mom was a traitor to our people and my dad was a sellout for marrying a Korean,” she said. “I know Les. I wouldn’t be with someone who had hate in their heart.”
“The last person I want to disappoint is her,” Voros-Bond said of his girlfriend. “That’s the worst of it.”
The couple are offering Dorky’s as a venue to host events for Black Lives Matter.
“I am apologizing for the way I acted out there,” Voros-Bond said. “I messed up. I made a mistake. I’m not racist.”