ANDERSONVILLE — The owner of an Andersonville antique shop is apologizing for calling the police on a “peaceful” chalking demonstration, saying he and his wife are working to change problematic behavior.
The husband-and-wife duo behind Brimfield, 5219 N. Clark St., are facing boycotts and protests following a testy exchange with demonstrators that ended with police being called during a chalking event in Andersonville Saturday.
After sparring with demonstrators over the language being chalked outside Brimfield, shop co-owner Julie Fernstrom called the police on the group. The confrontation led neighbors to air accusations of racism against Julie and Jeff Fernstrom for past interactions at the store and for Facebook posts Jeff Fernstrom has shared.
On Friday, Jeff Fernstrom said the couple is sorry for the incident last weekend and is working to learn from their mistakes.
“We deeply regret interrupting a peaceful demonstration,” he said. “It was a mistake. We are owning what we did.”
The incident has led to a level of soul searching among the couple, Jeff Fernstrom said, adding he hopes the neighborhood allows them the opportunity to grow.
“It’s hard for me to face my own reality, that I was a part of this systemic racism,” he said. “We’re learning that we and the world need to change more than we realize.”
On Saturday, the Andersonville business community organized a chalking demonstration along the Clark Street commercial corridor. Dozens of people decorated the streets, sidewalks and building facades with calls to end systemic racism.
When a group of demonstrators walked past Brimfield around 3 p.m. Saturday, they realized that their markings — which read “silent cops are guilty, too” — had disappeared from the sidewalk.
The group began to rewrite the slogan when Julie Fernstrom came out of the store and confronted them, all three demonstrators who witnessed the event told Block Club.
That led to the police being called for a disturbance outside the store involving spray paint, but police took no action after discovering the writings were in chalk, the department said.
After the police left, Julie Fernstrom and Brimfield employees used mops and buckets to remove chalk from outside their store, including a message that said the store does not support Black Lives Matter.
While speaking with onlookers in an exchange captured on video, Julie Fernstrom said the demonstrators were “cop haters” and defended her actions, saying: “I’m not racist. My husband is Black.”
She later asked on video: “How am I racist if my husband is a Black, 56-year-old male?”
Jeff Fernstrom is white. Her comments led to intense online criticism. Jeff Fernstrom, who was not at the store Saturday, said his wife clearly misspoke, and may have meant to say that both Jeff and Julie had dated Black people.
“That’s probably what she said, but is not what she meant,” Jeff said. “We have dated Black people. But that statement right there is a racist statement. We’re trying to change.”
Brimfield has remained closed since the incident last weekend. The store plans to open on Sunday, Jeff Fernstrom said.
That’s one day after a second Andersonville chalk demonstration organized in response to the actions of Brimfield. Further demonstrations against the store are planned.
“We want people to vent, and we will not get in their way,” Jeff Fernstrom said.
The incident outside their store, plus the killings of Black men George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, has been a catalyst for the couple to consider their views, Jeff Fernstrom said.
In response to Facebook posts of his that call Black Lives Matter a “leftist lie,” Jeff Fernstrom said he misunderstood the movement and is committed to educating himself on the topic.
“We don’t consider ourselves racist by any means,” he said. “I guess, somewhere deep down, there is some of that.
“We’re proud of this generation who wont stand for this,” he said. “So, we’re learning.”
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