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Michigan man pleads guilty to hate crimes targeting Black Lives Matter supporters after George Floyd’s murder in 2020

By Isa Kaufman Geballe, CNN

A Michigan man accused of making death threats against Black Lives Matter supporters during unrest following George Floyd’s killing in 2020 pleaded guilty in federal court to two hate crime charges, officials said.

Kenneth Pilon, 61, pleaded guilty to willfully intimidating and attempting to intimidate citizens from engaging in lawful speech and protests in support of Black Lives Matter, according to a news release from the US Department of Justice.

“The defendant levied racially-motivated death threats against multiple Black people wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts,” said Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Pilon was accused of calling nine Michigan Starbucks locations in June 2020 and threatening to kill Black people while also using a racist slur, prosecutors said.

CNN has reached out to an attorney representing Pilon for comment.

On the calls, Pilon allegedly told employees answering the phone to tell staffers wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts that “the only good n***er is a dead n***er,” according to court documents.

The calls placed on June 14, 2020, came two days after Starbucks reversed its position prohibiting employees from wearing gear, including T-shirts or pins supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and announced it was giving 250,000 T-shirts to employees.

In May 2020, a White Minneapolis police officer murdered Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man — galvanizing national and global condemnation of social and racial injustice, particularly surrounding the excessive force law enforcement officers use against Black people in the US.

Pilon also pleaded guilty to a second hate crime charge in which he was accused of placing a noose inside a vehicle with handwritten note that read, “An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ t-shirt. Happy protesting!” according to prosecutors.

“The defendant also used a noose, a vile symbol of hatred and violence that harkens back to the Jim Crow era, to convey a threat of racial violence,” Clarke said.

The hangman’s noose has come to symbolize brutality in the US and its history of lynchings and hatred toward Black people.

Pilon will be sentenced in March, according to the Justice Department.

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CNN’s Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.

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