A Michigan man who tried to intimidate Black Lives Matter supporters by leaving nooses and threatening notes around his community and making racist phone calls in the summer of 2020 has been sentenced to 10 months in federal prison and a year of supervised release, the U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday.
The man, Kenneth D. Pilon, 62, pleaded guilty in December to two misdemeanor counts of willfully intimidating and attempting to intimidate citizens from engaging in lawful speech and protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to federal prosecutors.
On June 14, Mr. Pilon, a retired optometrist, made nine phone calls to Starbucks stores in Michigan in which he told the employees who answered to make racist slurs toward their colleagues who wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts, prosecutors said. He also told one employee that he planned to lynch a Black person, they added. Two days earlier, Starbucks had announced that it would send Black Lives Matter T-shirts to its stores after it had initially banned workers from wearing apparel with the phrase because it could “amplify divisiveness.”
The following month, Mr. Pilon also left five nooses across Saginaw, Mich. — four of them in parking lots, and one in a 7-Eleven store — together with handwritten notes that read: “An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ t-shirt. Happy protesting!” the Justice Department said.
Four other charges relating to separate, but similar, episodes were dropped, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
“A noose is a symbol of hatred that evokes the darkest days of our country’s past,” Dawn N. Ison, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement. “Its placement is meant to terrorize a part of our community, but we will not tolerate these race-based threats.”
Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, noted in a statement that such threats had “no place in civilized society.”
Mr. Pilon’s lawyer, Barry A. Wolf, could not be immediately reached on Wednesday evening for comment, but in a sentencing memorandum earlier this month, he told the court that Mr. Pilon was “deeply remorseful and embarrassed by his actions.”
Mr. Pilon had never previously been convicted of a crime, but in 2020, during a “perfect storm” of physical pain, social isolation and untreated mental health problems, he became consumed by news of the civil unrest, and lashed out with racist and intimidating conduct, Mr. Wolf said in the memorandum. “He understands the seriousness of these offenses.”
Regina Simon, whose husband at the time found one of the nooses in his car in Saginaw, said in an interview on Wednesday that the sentencing showed that the court was moving in the right direction in terms of taking the rights of the marginalized seriously. She added, however, the contention that Mr. Pilot had suffered while watching news reports about political demonstrations was “not a good enough excuse.”