Fondren restaurant owners say protesters keep harassing their customers without fear of arrest

Updated: May. 3, 2021 at 8:47 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - For the last few years, restaurant owners in Fondren say they’ve been targeted by protesters without any help from law enforcement or the city of Jackson.

“They’re just telling everyone they’re going to Hell, they’re burning in fire,” said Nathan Glenn, who owns two restaurants in the area. “I don’t know who made them Jesus Christ, and why they think they’re Jesus Christ, because they’re not.”

While protests are nothing new to Fondren - home of the state’s only abortion clinic - Glenn said in recent months those screaming their beliefs have chosen a new target: the businesses across the street.

Facebook video shows protesters, one with a sign that reads “Repent or Perish,” gathered in front of The Bean on North State Street.

“They’re literally screaming at customers, just because you’re having a cup of coffee, and the police for whatever reason, from higher up, they won’t arrest them,” Glenn said.

These owners point to portions of state law that disturbing people with noises and offensive conduct (§ 97-35-9) and causing a disturbance or “breach of the peace in a public place (§ 97-35-13) are guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

“On the harassment part as far as customers being harassed, what has to happen on their end, the businesses themselves or parents/guardians of kids that are being yelled at, if they feel threatened, they have to file charges against that particular individual,” JPD spokesperson Sam Brown said.

Glenn and others have filed affidavits to charge those protesters, but even then, nothing is done. Glenn says officers told him the higher ups say not to do anything for fear of a lawsuit.

“I understand that they’re frustrated and they want something to happen, but a police officer’s not going to jeopardize going to federal prison just so you can have peace,” Brown said.

Neighboring business owner Kristy Buchanan says it might have to come to that.

“If that’s what we have to do, that’s what we have to do. But you know, we would rather just get the protections, you know, that should be afforded to us as citizens of Jackson,” Buchanan said.

She described the efforts by this group one Saturday that had a traumatic effect on her staff and customers.

“[Protesters] blocked a public sidewalk and the entrance to my business for nearly two hours while five to six police officers stood by. When I argued that their free speech should not terrorize people and cause a loss of revenue to my business, they just shrugged,” Buchanan said. “I begged and pleaded for what felt like hours for them to do something. Nothing. Chief [James] Davis said he would come. He never came.”

In 2019, Jackson city leaders approved a buffer zone around healthcare clinics, intended to help shield Fondren’s abortion clinic from these heated protests, but that ordinance was repealed after suits were filed against the city.

3 On Your Side reached out to Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay, who told us they’re still waiting for a federal ruling in that case.

Glenn says he thinks the group - believed to be called the Church at Jackson - will end up crossing the line and spark a fight, because the community is tired of it.

“We’ve got a group of social terrorists, harassing the local businesses, and we have zero protection because they’re hiding behind Jesus, behind religion, and everybody’s scared to touch it,” Glenn said.

3 On Your Side reached out multiple times to talk to the group believed to be responsible for those protests, but no one responded.

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