Two local small business owners have come under fire for a recent social media post that appears to mock the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that has sparked outrage and protests nationwide for the last 10 days, including in Eugene.
A picture on Facebook shows a woman who appears to be Paula McGuigan smiling and kneeling on the neck of an Asian man, Hien Williams, who was wearing a shirt that read “I CAN’T BREATHE.” The caption to the photo read, “Ready for my Minnesota trip…#asianlivematters.”
Screen grabs of the picture and of McGuigan’s Facebook profile were shared by Facebook user Charles Notnats, whose page includes more than 10 similar posts calling out people’s posts. The pictures, placed together in a way that isn’t clear who made the original post with the picture, included a message tagging the Eugene chamber of commerce and the local NAACP.
Williams, who is Asian, owns The Graphic Shop in Eugene.
McGuigan, who is white, lives in Eugene and is the owner and president of Home Spray Foam & Insulation.
She left a message with The Register-Guard, saying she did not post the photo, Williams did.
In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Williams apologized and said the photo was intended to show support for Floyd.
“As I am sure many of you are aware that a post that I recently made was taken completely out of context and misconstrued. I wore my “I can’t breath” T-shirt in showing my support for George Floyd and what happened to him is inexcusable,” Williams wrote. “The caption on my post was Asian lives Matter. I was trying to demonstrate that this could and has happened to people of all races. If my post offended anyone I truly apologize. If you know me as a person you know that I do not judge anyone based on their race, religion, sexuality or politics. I apologize for any misunderstanding.”
McGuigan, before shutting down her social media accounts, also posted an apology on Facebook.
“I know that there was a Facebook post with me in it and I can see how this truly looks disrespectful to the death of George Floyd,” McGuigan wrote. “This was 100% not the intent of this post. I would never disrespect the death of any innocent person no matter what their race is. (The man in the photo) is Asian and we were trying to say that Asian lives matter as do all races. I look at the post and am so remorseful that this was done. I 100% stand for justice and equality for all walks of life. Again, my deepest regrets for this poor taste post. A lesson very well learned that sometimes what we are trying to say does not come across.”
The backlash was swift as the post went viral nationally, with people from different parts of the country calling on locals to boycott. McGuigan’s Facebook and LinkedIn accounts have been closed and the website to her business also has been taken down.
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, died handcuffed and face down on the ground as white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck following an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd pleaded with Chauvin that he couldn’t breathe and eventually died in the street.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Williams originally posted the picture to Facebook and includes his response.