Around a dozen protesters gathered outside the Nails @ The Rails nail salon in Lula Friday morning in response to an alleged act of racism committed by salon owner Phat Dinh and a customer at the salon July 2.
Brittany Bailey, the organizer of the protest, along with Devin Pandy, a candidate running for the 9th Congressional district seat, made speeches on the dangers of “covert” racism. Afterward, the protesters spent eight minutes holding signs in front of the salon. Bailey said she chose the number eight because of its biblical association with new beginnings.
“Covert racism is a major issue,” she said on Friday. “It’s important that people speak up when they see it happening.”
A small group of counterprotesters also showed up and spoke briefly with the protesters. Communication between the groups never escalated to anything more than slightly raised voices.
Steve Gilstrap, a Lula resident and one of the counterprotesters who attended the protest, said he wanted to make sure Bailey and the other protesters understood that Lula was not a racist city.
“We are very peaceful, nonracist people,” he said. “And (Bailey) needs to stop stirring things up.”
Bailey originally organized the protest last week, but canceled it on Wednesday, July 8, after allegedly receiving threats of violence on social media. On Thursday, July 9, she changed her mind again, deciding to go through with the protest as originally scheduled. Bailey said the support and reassurance of safety from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, along with the importance of the cause, were the reasons she ultimately chose to hold the protest.
Officers with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office were on site to prevent any escalation of conflict between the two groups.
Lt. Greg Cochran said the protesters did everything “by the book” applying for and receiving a permit to legally protest. He also said the Sheriff’s Office looked into threats made toward the protesters on social media, and that “it didn’t appear to be anything that was a really imminent threat at the moment.”
Following the speeches and eight-minute silent protest, both protesters and counterprotesters dispersed from in front of the salon without conflict.
The protest stemmed from an incident that occurred at the salon July 2.
Maggie Gerrell, who said she has visited Nails @ The Rails as a customer on multiple occasions, said that owner Phat Dinh offered another customer a 10% discount for saying “white power” and a 50% discount for saying “the N word.”
“And she said ‘What?’ like she didn’t understand him. I guess she didn’t believe what she heard,” Gerrell said. “And he said ‘If you say white power, I’ll give you a 10% discount. If you say the N word, I’ll give you a 50% discount.’ And at that point, I looked at him and my jaw dropped.”
Dinh said Gerrell misunderstood a joke he was making with one of his regular customers.
“The customer I’m working on, she was like ‘You know Phat, I’m so tired to see what our country has turned into today. Because everywhere we go, it’s all about black and white, even though I go to work, people call me white trash, cracker, whatever. And we cannot say anything back. If we said the N-word back to them, they call me a racist,’” Dinh said. “So I was playing with her. I said, ‘What is the N word?’ And she was like ‘Phat, I cannot say that, because I’d get in trouble.’”
Dinh said he offered the customer a 10% discount if she chose a “white color” for her toes while receiving a pedicure.
Gerrell disputes that as well.
“He said ‘white power.’ He said ‘If you say white power’ -- and I know he said that, because before he – whenever he was talking about the protesters and the Black Lives Matter,” Gerrell said. “I would have taken a video, but my phone was on 1% when I was in there, and I knew it would die.”
Dinh posted an apology to the salon’s Facebook page, which read in part: “We apologize and harbor no ill intentions to anyone. We mean no harm with our jokes, and will strive to better our situational awareness in order to prevent further misunderstandings.”
The Facebook page has since been taken down.
Dinh said that he is Asian and not a racist. He said he doesn’t want to create any problems.
“I’ve lived here in America for over 30 years. I know what I should say and what I shouldn’t. And when we have everybody in here, and because sometimes I make a joke to let everybody relax. But I never meant to hurt nobody,” Dinh said.