A bartender and band member who has fans in the Chattanooga music scene has lost his job, and the fate of his band is uncertain, after remarks he posted on social media.
"I said the wrong thing and now I have to deal with it and move on," he said.
Cory French, 38, has roles with the band The Fridge and WanderLinger Brewing Co. Two weeks ago, after a discussion with a friend about the marches and protests occurring locally and around the country over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, French made a post on Facebook.
The statement read in part, "These protests are starting to agitate me. Let's not forget we are in the middle of a pandemic and there is already proof that it is accelerating the spread. The point was made a long time ago and arrests are being made so stop it. Some of you don't even know what you are protesting about, so stop it. This could end up killing thousands because of one bad man. The sensationalism has gotten a little out of control. It's time to man up and make changes in a legitimate fashion. Whites get killed by blacks too. Black officers also kill blacks. %90 [sic] of black homicides are committed by blacks, killing each other. They need to 'Matter' too [sic] themselves too."
The post got a few comments, and within about five minutes, French said, he regretted posting it and took it down. Someone took a screenshot and reposted it and suddenly many people were commenting on it, accusing him of being racist. Others defended him.
French tried to explain with a second post, and things only got worse. So much so that Wanderlinger owners Chris and Mike Dial posted a statement on the brewery's Facebook page.
"It has come to our attention that a team member at WanderLinger Brewing Co. has recently made some racially incentive [sic] remarks in a public setting. These comments do not reflect the views of WanderLinger ownership, nor do we condone them. We are taking immediate action to address this incident.
"Over the last several days, the crew and owners at WanderLinger have been engaging in conversations about racial justice. We recognize that as a gathering place and music venue, we have a platform and therefore a responsibility to speak out. Silence in the face of injustice only continues to enable it. We wish to break that silence to state our unequivocal support of our black community. We fully acknowledge that is but a small, first step in the march forward. We will follow up with additional, actionable steps that we will be taking as a company to become more inclusive and proactive in fighting inequality in our community."
French said he was a longtime friend of the Dials and an investor in the business. He said he didn't speak to either of the owners before the business made its statement, "and I assumed I was fired when I saw it."
He said this week that he was privately contracted with WanderLinger to book the live music and run the shows at the venue. He also tended bar and did much of the graphic work and social media for the business.
"They asked me to come back, but how could I?" he said.
In an email to the Times Free Press, Chris Dial repeated many of the comments posted online, adding, "We want to be clear that these comments do not reflect the views of WanderLinger ownership. Contrary to claims, this individual was never part of WanderLinger management. He was originally hired as a part-time independent contractor to run sound, play music and occasionally tend the bar."
French said, "Their posts hurt me really bad. I did everything there."
Courtney Holder is a fellow musician who also works at Wanderlinger and watched things happen in real time.
"It was hard to watch because I know he is not a racist. My takeaway is that Cory is not racist, but I would not have said that online. Everybody has an opinion. I even got messages of people calling me racist because of taking up for Cory."
Bryan Stone discussed the situation on his "Stone On Air" podcast and said later, "I couldn't believe the mob mentality and childlike behavior of some people.
"Rather than come together like adults and discuss something, they said, 'Let's bury the guy.' We don't all have to agree on stuff, but he shouldn't lose his job. I think it hurts the movement and it hurts the message."
The father of a 9-month-old, French said the experience has impacted his everyday life and that he is uncertain of the future of The Fridge, or what he will do.
"I may go back to school," he said. "It is probably the end of the band, too. It just blows my mind.
"It was an ignorant statement and not what I meant to say, which is why I took it down. I don't like what I said and made that very clear when I made my apologies, but it has turned into a life changer."
French added, "It should be known that after all this, me and WanderLinger are on good terms and have resolved the situation and will be making a public statement soon."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
Correction: This story was edited to correct a word in French's statement.