Local law enforcement leaders this week came to the defense of the Montauk Brewing Company, after the small brewery became the target of a Facebook page calling for a boycott of the company’s products over a chalkboard message from June expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo and Manny Vilar, a Springs resident and president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, both issued statements in support of the local company that said the ire directed at it by those claiming to support police was misdirected.
“The Montauk Brewing Company, its employees and ownership group have always been tremendous supporters of this police department and it is very unfortunate they are being targeted in this manner,” Chief Sarlo said in a statement on Monday. “Actions speak louder than words and they have always backed local police and first responders.”
Mr. Vilar, a New York State Parks Police officer, said that after initially voicing his own criticism of the brewery, he spoke with the owners and said the criticisms are ill-informed.
“I can unequivocally state that Montauk Brewery Company owners #SupportOurPolice and rejects all positions, ideologies, and organizations that promote and advocate defunding police, anti-police, racial, and professional biased sentiments,” Mr. Vilar, whose union represents state parks, university and environmental conservation officers and forest rangers, wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend. “The Montauk Brewery is a local company that employs local residents. They have been and continue to be supporters our police … In short, they are what East Hampton needs more of.”
Chief Sarlo himself appealed to those who formed the page, which they named “Defund The Montauk Brewing Company,” and its more than 23,000 “members” that perhaps sensitivity to the tenor of the message that has arisen from the Black Lives Matter protests in the last three months exaggerated the message the brewery was sending.
“Police officers and unions have been demonized to the point of unacceptable rhetoric against the profession as a whole, and the tremendous men and women who go above and beyond for their communities every day feel under constant attack,” Chief Sarlo said. “The country has become so polarized, as a society we seem to have lost track of the conversation. If the ‘conversation’ were had, whoever started that defund page and the [Montauk Brewing Co.] crew would find far more common ground and mutual respect than discord.”
A photo of the message scrawled back in June in pastel-colored chalk on a small beer can-shaped chalkboard was apparently the catalyst for the creation of the Facebook page by a Nassau County couple, Robert and Valeria Frank. The Franks did not respond to requests for comment.
The page began as a public page but was switched to private over the weekend requiring that the administrators allow someone to join. A request to join is met with two questions: “Do you support domestic terrorist organization BLM?” and “Do you believe ALL LIVES MATTER?”
The page’s “About” section describes it as such: “This group is to bring awareness Due The recent events that montauk brewing company has decided to take and make a poor decision by supporting a anti American terrorist group.”
Since being created on Wednesday, August 12, the page has seen a flood of new members join — more than 23,000 as of Tuesday evening — many of whom identify themselves as police officers from various departments outside of the East End.
Thousands of posts have been made on the page in hundreds of meandering threads, largely proclaiming support for police officers and painting the Black Lives Matter movement as “violent” or “terrorist” and sharing memes spotlighting crimes committed by Black Americans. Hundreds of posts simply sling racist tropes and epithets at Black Americans.
The vitriol and aggressiveness of the messages stunned the owners of the brewery. One of the co-founders, Vaughn Cutillo, said on Friday that he and his partners — one of whom is the son of a retired East Hampton Town Police officer — were baffled by the creation and sentiment of the new Facebook group, saying that its apparent presumptions and the basis for its founding were ill-informed.
“We’ve always supported our local police — we’ve donated to the PBA for their events, and we’ll continue to do that,” Mr. Cutillo said. “In June, we spoke up for a community that was experiencing racism and in support of racial equality. We unapologetically stand against racism and violence.”
The message that spurred the often profanity-laced outrage was written on the chalkboard outside the Montauk tasting room on June 3, the week a Black Lives Matter march was held in Montauk, amid the national outcry over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“The founders and team at Montauk Brewing Company support the movement with all our hearts,” the message reads, in multi-colored chalk writing, with “Black Lives Matter” standing out in yellow chalk. “We have donated and will continue to support organizations that further the cause. Come as you are.”
The donations that the message board referred to were made to the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective and the NAACP, both national nonprofit organizations focused on social support of marginalized minority communities.
“They are two well-respected organizations that do not support violent actions against police, and we would never support that. Which is why this very aggressive thing sort of sat us back — we don’t know who started it or why, but they are confused, because we’ve always respected the police,” Mr. Cutillo said. “I’ve been hand-delivering our products to police, fire departments, EMTs and nurses since March.
“We stand for equality and support our police,” he added. “You can do both.”
On Friday morning, the company put up a new message on the beer can-shaped chalkboard:
“We have, and will always support our local police, first responders, nurses, doctors, and fire departments,” the new message reads. “We also support equal rights for all. At the end of the day, we support good people doing good things.”