A California woman apologized after she was photographed at a protest holding a sign comparing social distancing guidelines to slavery.
Demonstrators convened at the Humboldt County Courthouse in rural Northern California on May 16 to protest the state’s COVID-19 policies. Gretha Stenger was among them, and a picture of her at the event caused a stir online.
Redheaded Blackbelt, a local blog, snapped a picture of her holding a sign that read, “Muzzles are for dogs and slaves. I am a free human being.”
She also told Redheaded Blackbelt she “came out to stand with people who were deeply concerned about the stay-at-home orders and their repercussions.”
A drawing of Escrava Anastacia, an African woman who was enslaved in Brazil in the 19th century, wearing a muzzle was next to the text. Anastacia is seen as a saint to many in the South American country,
Another protester was also photographed holding the sign. She was identified by the blog as Larkin Small.
“Small said it was her first time ever coming to a demonstration and that this is what it took to get her out of her house at the age of 37,” the Redheaded Blackbelt captioned the photo.
The pictures circulated online and drew outraged responses.
“Everyone needs to know who Gretha Stenger and Larkin Small are. They’re the racist b—–s who think muzzling slaves is okay!” tweeted one critic. “No human being should ever be enslaved let alone MUZZLED!! I wouldn’t even dare muzzle my dog!”
“I would love to say that I’m shocked by this woman’s actions in my hometown, but I’m not,” another person said of Stenger. “I hope this woman, Gretha Stenger, & the other woman pictured holding this sign, Larkin Small, get fired & have to face the consequences of their actions.”
“Tonight I will light a candle for Escrava Anastacia and try to choke back my rage at the hideousness of racism as displayed by Gretha Omey Stenger and Larkin Small,” wrote another person. “May Saint Anastacia’s name live forever, and theirs turn to dust in our mouths.”
Stenger apologized on Monday and claimed someone else made the sign.
“Holding that sign up at the lockdown protest was a grave mistake and I ask forgiveness from all those who I have caused pain. As I had no sign of my own, it was handed to me by another protester and a photographer took the picture before I considered the racist implications,” Stenger said in a statement to The Times-Standard.
She added, “My intent was to take a stand for the freedom of all human persons and I mistakenly held a sign that conveyed the opposite. Please know that I respect the dignity of all people and I sincerely regret any suffering it has caused.”
Small has not spoken publicly about the controversy surrounding the sign.
Sharrone Blanck, president of the local branch of the NAACP, wants accountability instead of apologies.
“The first issue is the fact that this person is equating dogs to enslaved people, specifically enslaved Africans,” Blanck told The Times-Standard. “Then she identifies herself as a free human being — somehow above and better than people of African descent and people of color in general who were made to wear muzzles.”