Restaurant Owner Says Husband's Drinking To Blame For Denying Entry To Black Customer

A Black man who was trying to go into a restaurant in Clinton, Maryland on Friday said he was temporarily denied entry because he was wearing a shirt that read, "I can't breathe."

Though Rick Giovannoni, one of the owners of The Fish Market, eventually allowed the man to come inside and order food, the customer, Daryl Rollins, told the Washington, D.C.-based television station Fox 5 Giovannoni later said he wanted to "smack" Rollins over the shirt's message.

Rick Giovannoni's wife, Sherry Giovannoni, the other restaurant owner, apologized in a Facebook post on Sunday and attributed the incident to her husband's alcoholism and mental health.

"To say that I am shocked and embarrassed by his behavior is an understatement. He is bipolar and was drinking heavily all day yesterday which triggers manic behavior," Sherry Giovannoni wrote about her husband on Facebook. "All I can say is that his behavior in no way reflects the feeling and the culture of The Fish Market management, staff and myself."

Her post continued to say her family was getting Rick help and was in the meantime open to community feedback. According to Fox 5, Rick Giovannoni later posted on Facebook that he and Sherry are no longer business partners or husband and wife.

George Floyd mural
George Floyd's face was painted on a wall on 27th June, 2020 in Berlin,Germany. The "I can't breathe" message has over the last several years become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and around the world. TPG/Getty

The Fish Market did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment in time for publication.

Rollins described the initial interaction to Fox 5 during a protest that began Sunday in response to the incident. "He told me, 'Why do you have that shirt on? I seen the video. It was terrible. Why would you wear that shirt? You cannot come into my establishment like that."

Rick Giovannoni appeared to have misunderstood the message behind the shirt, Rollins said."I think he misinterpreted what the shirt was saying," Rollins said. "All it said was, 'I can't breathe.' He took it a different way."

The message has come to represent the Black Lives Matter movement, which has fueled protests across the U.S. and overseas in the weeks since George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. In a video taken during Floyd's arrest, Floyd could be heard saying "I can't breathe" as a police officer knelt on his neck.

But the movement's use of the phrase predates Floyd's death by nearly six years. In July of 2014, Eric Garner, another Black man, also uttered the phrase while in a police chokehold in New York. Over the years since, similar incidents recorded between Black Americans and police officers cemented "I can't breathe" as a rallying cry symbolizing violence against Black Americans. As demonstrations in recent days have heated up, the message has been repeatedly used during protests, in political debates and on clothing worn by protesters.