Raymond Arke | News Editor
UPDATE 08/22/18: According to multiple media reports, Mahmut Yilmaz was found not guilty of simple assault and aggravated assault on August 15.
UPDATE 01/16/18: According to a Pizza Milano statement published by CBS Pittsburgh (KDKA), the owner of Pizza Milano, Semsi Yilmaz (no relation, said that Mahmut Yilmaz had be terminated and that “[I] condemn his actions in the strongest way possible.” Semsi Yilmaz reiterated in the statement that they have “cooperated fully with the police investigation from the beginning and will continue to do so.”
With temperatures hovering in the low 20s on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, over 50 people gathered outside Pizza Milano and did what the famed civil rights activist was known for — protested.
After a Jan. 12 video went viral showing Pizza Milano’s manager Mahmut Yilmaz assaulting African-American woman, Jade Martin, community members gathered calling for justice. Solutions mentioned included bringing harsher charges against Yilmaz, the closing of Pizza Milano and a call for greater awareness of violence against women.
Anthony Hall, a grassroots organizer, said that the protests were about more than the color of the victim’s skin.
“This incident was beyond race,” he said. “When we aren’t protecting our women … our community, we have lost our worth.”
The symbolism of the protest happening on Martin Luther King’s Day wasn’t lost on him.
“This is what MLK Day is supposed to be about,” Hall said.
Hall was happy with the growing gathering.
“[The assault] is not Pittsburgh, this is Pittsburgh,” he said speaking of the protestors.
One of the people in attendance was Christine Carter, aunt of Jade Martin, the victim. She was in shock of what had happened.
“Unbelievable. We thought that [Yilmaz] was going to kill her,” she said. “For a man to beat a female down like that is ridiculous.”
Carter addressed the reports that Martin may have been drinking before entering the pizza place.
“Had she been drinking? I don’t know that. Still, [that is] no cause … he was raging,” she said.
Another protester was Richard King. King was there hoping to spread a message of healing and “celebrate Martin Luther King’s peaceful tradition.”
“I wanted to use mindfulness skills to heal. Violence is a disease,” he said.
King wished that Yilmaz had been aware of these techniques.
“Mindfulness teaches self control,” something that could have prevented this situation, King said.
As the day continued, more and more protesters showed up. Many held signs calling for “Justice for Jade” or “We will take our respect by any means necessary.” Free coffee, donuts and hand-warmers were set up on several tables for those gathered to use. Popular chants included “We’re freezing for a reason,” “No justice, no pizza” and protesters responded to numerous honks of support from passing cars with the raised fist, commonly associated with the Black Power movement.
Nate Broadus, a community member, felt it was crucial for people like him to show up.
“It is important as a black man to support black women,” he said. “MLK would want this happening every day.”
Broadus also said that this issue is one that has been ignored for too long.
“Women have been preaching that this is a serious issue for years … If MLK could say one thing it would be, ‘Believe black women,’” he said.
Some of the protesters came into the city from the suburbs. One African-American woman, Denise, drove in from Penn Hills. She was “appalled” by the violence she saw in the video.
“[It was] a brutal attack by the manager. No woman should ever be treated like that,” she said.
She hoped that this video would keep people away from doing business with Pizza Milano.
“I hope Duquesne students don’t come here,” she said.
A women who said her name was Nicky Jo was one of the main speakers. She called for stronger charges than aggravated and simple assault to be brought against Yilmaz.
“There was nothing simple about that assault,” she said. “We need to make sure there’ll be no plea deals.”
Nicky Jo said that she hoped the protests continue.
“We need to keep the momentum going,” she said. She also mentioned that people plan to continue protesting in front of Pizza Milano in shifts for the near future.
Ty Thomas, another protester, thought that it was “wrong” for the manager to choose violence when handling the situation.
Michelle Calloway was there to “stand up for something against injustice.”
“No man should lay his hands on anyone,” she said.
Three Duquesne students, Evan Neff, Andres Albornoz and Jonathan Radinovic were in attendance. They said that after watching the video, they will stick to ordering pizza from Domino’s.
Neff said that he felt he had to come down to show his support.
“We are just trying to do what’s right. We are with the community,” he said.
Albornoz said the assault was something that transcended race.
“It doesn’t matter if it was black, white … it was wrong,” he said.
Yilmaz has a history of several traffic related violations and defiant trespass.
Michael Marafino contributed reporting.