Wisconsin business owners respond to accusation of ‘blatantly racist comment and imagery’ after viral post

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MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) – A photo recently posted to Facebook including two Manitowoc business owners has sparked a protest along the lakeshore.

The photo, which has since been deleted, shows four men on a boat. One of the men appears to be holding a noose, with the caption “It really is a garage door pull.” The post, which appears to be posted by Jeff Just of Just Orthodontics, comes just days after federal authorities determined a noose found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace at Talledega was a garage door pull.

Two of the men in the photo have been identified as Just and Brennan Seehafer, owner of The Wharf in Manitowoc.

The Wharf issued a statement on July 1, including a response from Seehafer, saying:

The Wharf Manitowoc values inclusivity, equality and diversity. The Wharf Manitowoc further acknowledges that racist content and remarks are hurtful, divisive and wrong. Microagressions are not productive, and awareness is the first step. A recently shared insensitive post on social media (not posted or shared by The Wharf, its owners or employees) portrayed an image and comment in shamefully poor taste in which the owner of The Wharf was represented.

“While I am represented in the photo, it does not represent at all what I stand for,” commented Brennan Seehafer, owner of The Wharf. “I did not post nor share this image and do not agree with the message it represents. It is repulsive. I regret that I am in any way associated with this disgusting image.”

Lakeshore’s United Visionaries (LUV) is an organization that wants to change the community by filling it up with love in order to bring the community together. In an effort to be part of the solution going forward, Seehafer has been in communication with the organizers of LUV exploring an opportunity for constructive and meaningful community dialogue. Seehafer is invited to participate in and will attend a roundtable discussion with LUV members hosted by Pastor Matt Sauer. In the short term, LUV plans to hold a protest in the vicinity of The Wharf to draw greater attention to their cause and the unacceptable nature of hate speech in any form. The Wharf supports LUV at this important time. The Wharf will be closed July 1 through July 3. Join us again on July 4 as we come together to celebrate our nation’s independence.

“I value diversity, and we want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome at The Wharf,” remarked Seehafer. “I am dedicated to doing whatever it takes to shift the conversation to one of positivity focused on change. This is an opportunity for growth. It is important to speak up on behalf of all of our community members, and I hope you’ll join me in this sentiment.”

The Lakeshore’s United Visionaries (LUV) issued a statement on Facebook in response, saying in part, “While Brennan Seehafer, owner of the Wharf, did have conversations with two of our members [Tuesday], we have not as an organization have an organized communication with him, nor have any events been planned at this time – with the exception of our protest [Wednesday night] at 6:00 p.m. in front of The Wharf.”

The statement goes on to say “our organization did not give The Wharf Manitowoc permission to use our name, nor were we consulted about the statement prior to its release. We are disappointed that neither Brennan nor a representative for The Wharf Manitowoc spoke to our group leaders regarding this statement before releasing it this morning.”

LUV continues, saying that while the roundtable discussion mentioned in the release from The Wharf is a potential event that LUV leadership has been discussing since before the photo was posted “and is not something that has been planned specifically in response to it, nor has anything been finalized.”

“While we appreciate the support during this time, the members of L.U.V. would rather see Brennan and The Wharf Manitowoc use their respective platforms to issue a statement that includes a formal apology to the community and the steps that are being taken personally to make amends in a more immediate way. The statement currently posted on The Wharf Manitowoc’s Facebook page does not include such an apology, and we feel that our organization’s extensive inclusion in the statement might be construed as an acceptance of an apology that was never given.”

In a statement sent to WFRV, Jeff Just of Just Orthodontics expressed regret over the photo:

To our community, I am sorry, unconditionally. Usually, when I’m speaking to the public, it’s
about good things happening, things that bring us together. I know I’ve made a terrible mistake
and that it has reflected on me, my family, staff, colleagues, and our community.

And for that, I am sorry.

I did not raise my children to be tone-deaf to or make light of symbols of the darkest part of our
nation’s history. And this poor judgment was mine, not theirs.

I’ve always treated errors in judgment as opportunities, to learn, grow, and improve myself and
my contribution to society.

This will, without a doubt, be the toughest lesson I’ve had to learn and grow from.

Please allow me to grow from it and demonstrate that I understand how offensive my photo and
comment were.

I take full responsibility for my actions and I hope to help make our community a safer place
where everyone is accepted because when we do better, we all potentially benefit.

I hope that over time I can regain the trust and respect that I have lost.

Again, please accept this apology.

Jeff Just

Local 5 will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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