Racist emails spewing threats of violence and bigoted taunts began appearing in the inboxes of some Philadelphia small business owners Tuesday night.
The only thing the recipients had in common is that they are Black. And now, they are concerned, angry, and speaking out about the incidents.
“I’ve never received anything quite like this before, or anything remotely close. So, when I did receive it, honestly, my heart dropped, because I realized that it was something that was pretty serious‚” said Khoran Horn, 37, owner of Stripp’d Cold Pressed Juice, an Old City establishment on Third Street near Vine Street that he has owned since 2015.
Police and prosecutors on Thursday encouraged victims to come forward with details of the threats. An executive of the state’s Human Relations Commission called the wave of messages “cyber racism.”
About 10 business owners received the emails, which differed in wording but not in sentiment, according to the recipients.
“All you [N-words] gonna burn and die,” read the headline on one of the emails. The author threatened to burn down businesses and rape women, and questioned the intelligence of Blacks.
“We should probly just reenslave all of you bc u have too many stupid kids and we’re so much smarter and better,” wrote the author, whose identity remains unknown.
Initially, Horn said he suspected that the email sender was looking for attention, which he did not want to give by acknowledging the message. But the next day he changed his mind, and his wife posted it on Facebook and contacted the FBI, said Horn, who also planned to contact Philadelphia police.
While the threats are troubling, Horn said, they will not stop him from running his business. “We are taking measures to make sure that we are protected,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for Philadelphia police said none of the targeted business owners had reported the troubling messages. He urged them to do so. “We would advise anyone receiving threatening emails to make a report in reference to harassment by communication,” Eric McLaurin said.
Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said the menacing nature of the emails warranted a coordinated response from the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI, and Philadelphia police.
“This is more than cyber bullying, it’s cyber racism,” Lassiter said. He said the public and law enforcement officials should be on high alert amid growing racial tension and protests against police brutality that have divided the nation.
The threats, he said, should be considered against the backdrop of what he described as “the anthology of police brutality and white supremacy where we will shoot a Jacob Blake seven times and then we will let Kyle Rittenhouse walk by after killing two people.”
Like Philadelphia police, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office encouraged those who received the threatening emails to contact law enforcement. Krasner’s spokesperson, Jane Roh, said anyone who did not want to call police could contact the DA’s Special Investigations Unit at 215-686-9608, DAO_SIU@phila.gov or https://twitter.com/philadao_siu.
Jeannine A. Cook, owner of Harriett’s Bookshop on Girard Avenue in Fishtown, said she was shaken by the hate-filled missive, but decided not to contact law enforcement authorities about the email she received Tuesday night.
She said that choice was shaped by incidents including the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. and, closer to home, civil unrest in Fishtown, where she saw officers in seeming solidarity with bat-wielding white men.
“I can’t see calling them to my defense,” said Cook, whose store opened in February and who has been operating from the sidewalk due to the Covid-19 shutdown. She plans to reopen the store on Sept. 26.
Customers and community members have been supportive, she said. “I’m not on my own. There are a lot of people out here who want to support us,” said Cook, adding that she remains frightened and wary.
Still, “I’m concerned about whether somebody is really going to react and do what they said they’re going to do in that email,” she said. “I think I would be silly if I was not at least cautious.”