Long Island restaurant owner faces backlash over racist remarks about peaceful protesters

Janelle Griffith

A Long Island, New York, restaurant owner was being slammed as racist Tuesday after he recorded himself in a Facebook video calling people who were peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd "animals" and "savages" and saying he would throw watermelons at them.

Luigi Petrone, the co-owner of Tutto Pazzo restaurant, recorded a Facebook Live on Monday afternoon as protesters approached New York Avenue in Huntington Village, where his business is located.

"Bunch of kids, little punks, they look like little animals, savages,” he says at the beginning of the recording.

He estimates in the video, first reported by Huntington Now, that there were 100 police officers present. A Suffolk County police spokeswoman told NBC News the protest was peaceful and drew up to 200 people.

Petrone then turned the camera on himself and another man, who he identifies as "Augie Jr.," and says the two "were ready." Augie Abbatiello Jr. is the co-owner of Pancho Villa's restaurant, which is also on New York Avenue.

"We don't joke around," Petrone says into the camera as he walks with Abbatiello trailing behind.

"They knew they're coming to Huntington, they're going to have a problem," Petrone continues, adding "they came in and they came out."

"They saw a bunch of us with a bunch of watermelons we were going to throw at them. You know what I mean? All the watermelons. They can't mess with us people in Huntington."

The video ends as they arrive near Pancho Villa's restaurant.

Sabrina Chavez, 22, a lifelong Huntington resident, saved the video and posted it to Facebook.

"THIS WAS A PEACEFUL PROTEST AND IT STILL WAS A PROBLEM TO SOME PEOPLE...," she wrote in the post Monday that has been widely shared. "DO YOU SEE WHY PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE FED UP NOW?"

Chavez said in an interview Tuesday that she felt compelled to save the video in order to "hold him accountable, because I knew he was lying and trying to make it seem like something it was not."

She said that people she grew up with were among the racially diverse group of protesters exercising "their right to protest and being peaceful" at Monday's demonstration.

"We have to hold people accountable, especially business owners," Chavez said. "We need business owners to support us the way we support them."

Chavez was among more than 100 people to take a knee outside of Tutto Pazzo early Tuesday evening to peacefully protest Petrone's remarks and show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The crowd chanted "Black lives matter" and "George Floyd" as they neared his establishment.

Hundreds of thousands of people nationwide have gathered and marched in protest against police brutality since Floyd's death last week while in Minneapolis police custody.

Petrone did not immediately return requests for comment. Calls to his restaurant went unanswered and his Facebook account is no longer active.

Petrone recorded another video on Monday after his remarks were rebuked, which Chavez also saved.

He identifies himself at the start of the video and says he did something that he "did not want to do."

"I totally am apologetic for what happened today," he says into the camera.

"I apologize. I was wrong," Petrone says. "I totally did not mean anything to hurt anybody. And I apologize sincerely."

His brother, Joey Petrone, co-owner of Tutto Pazzo, apologized Tuesday in a video posted to Facebook.

"I am deeply sorry for the horrible words and the hurt that my brother Luigi caused yesterday," he said. "It is unacceptable. And those are not my words or my views."

Because of his brother's actions, he said, they are no longer in business together.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to apologize to the African American community," he said. "I hope that this apology can start the process to bring peace to the community."

NAACP regional director Tracey Edwards, a Huntington resident, said his apology rang hollow.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Edwards, a former Huntington Town Board member, said she was sent Petrone's video and his apology "to a small group" was not good enough.

"You need to apologize to the children that organized the peaceful protest," she said.

Edwards also said Petrone owed the business owners in the area an apology.

"We are all trying to unite and then here you come with your video," she said. "You need to make another video and don't be shy. Apologize to all of us."