HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – Three words spoken millions of times are now at the center of the discussion on race — Black Lives Matter. A Chester, Virginia man says his employer fired him last week for refusing to remove a mask barring those words.
Breon Smith’s former workplace, General RV in Ashland, says “political” or “controversial” symbols at work are not allowed. He argues, however, that the statement “Black Lives Matter” isn’t political or controversial.
“As a Black man, it’s just me saying I matter, too,” Smith told 8News Tuesday.
Smith is not the first person to say they’ve been fired for refusing to take off a Black Lives Matter mask. Dismissals have occurred in several states recently over the hot button issue. So much so, that the U.S. Office of Special Counsel weighed in back in July concerning federal employees.
The council decided that, under federal law, federal employees can still not express support for specific political candidates at work but can wear Black Lives Matter slogans. They said the statement is “issue-based, not a campaign slogan.”
Smith echoed those sentiments.
“There are people that just don’t like the movement but I don’t care about the movement,” he said. “I care about being a Black man. I’m raising two Black sons, I have Black nieces and nephews and I’m fighting for us. I’m not just going to go away. I’m a soldier.”
Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, says he was fired Friday after ignoring several written and verbal warnings to remove his Black Lives Matter mask.
“When I said ‘I’m not gonna take off the mask,’ I was told I need to leave the premises,” he said.
Smith said he recorded a conversation with a supervisor last week, who compares “Black Lives Matter” to “Make America Great Again” masks that some other employees had been wearing.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed the Make America Great ones have started in as well, they’ve started wearing those in here, so we’re just saying we won’t do either side,” a woman in the video is heard saying.
The veteran argues that the situations don’t compare.
“We’re not running for anything,” he said. “There’s nothing to get anyone in office.”
An email sent to some employees and obtained by 8News says masks that are “politically driven” or “could be deemed controversial by customers” are not allowed at work.
But Smith feels differently.
“There’s nothing political about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to not lose my life. I’m trying to have my kids not lose their lives. It’s a fight for our lives basically.”
Last Friday, a spokesperson with General RV agreed to do an interview with 8News Tuesday. On Monday afternoon, however, General RV said they would not be available for an interview. The company did send a statement, saying in part, “we have always had and will maintain a neutral dress code.” They added the company doesn’t “tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
Here is the statement in full:
It is General RV’s policy not to comment on personnel issues, so we will not address Mr. Smith’s situation directly. General RV is committed to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment in our dealerships. For that reason, we have always had and will maintain a neutral dress code. This policy has been enforced consistently at all of our dealerships for many years, and it was extended to cover masks in May 2020. We believe RVing is for everyone, and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
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