Neighbors have identified the green-shirted man with the pram who confronted four people wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts in Lincoln Park on June 3, based on a video published soon after by the Hill Rag. As four people sat in the park to eat lunch, a man pushing a stroller confronted them and accused them of planning to deface the park. A heated exchange then took place.
Hannah Church, a resident of Capitol Hill, believes the man in the video is one of her neighbors in the Lincoln Park area. “It looks like Benjamin Thomas and I believe that is him,” she said.
Church is not alone in her belief. The Hill Rag has received at least six messages from anonymous sources identifying Thomas.
The Right to Police the Park
The video of the incident was sent anonymously to the Hill Rag. In the original submission, the faces of those accosted had been blurred. The newspaper chose to blur the face of the accuser in fairness, because the paper was unable to identify him and contact him for comment. The version received by the Hill Rag has since been posted on social media in full.
In the video, a man identified by neighbors as Thomas, accuses four persons of planning vandalism. He acknowledges in the video that his accusation is based on the Black Lives Matter t-shirts that two of the four are wearing.
“I’ve got 14 people with eyes on the park with air rifles waiting to take care of this if someone…,” the man in the video told the four.
On June 4, one of the four people who Thomas allegedly accused filed a complaint with the Metropolitan Police Department regarding the incident. First District Detectives are investigating.
More Than One Incident
After identifying Thomas, Church recounted a “frightening” interaction with Leah Pedersen Thomas, Benjamin Thomas’s wife, on June 1. Early that day, as she was heading to the downtown protests held in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, Church put up street signs. Created by Sign of Justice, the signs encouraged residents to advocate for justice for Floyd.
On her way back home at about 7 p.m., Church noticed some of the signs had been torn down. In the process of replacing them, she encountered a woman, who she later identified as Leah Pedersen Thomas, holding crumpled-up fliers in her hand. When confronted, Church recalled the woman stating, “It is your kind that are the people causing damage. You need to be a better person and read scripture and you should read Martin Luther King, Jr.”
The Hill Rag called Leah Pedersen Thomas’s cell phone to confirm Church’s story, leaving a voicemail request. A woman who returned the call from the same number did not identify herself. Asked about Benjamin Thomas, she said, “Well, I’m not sure where that person could be.”
The Hill Rag was unable to locate a phone number for Benjamin Thomas. The paper attempted to contact him via LinkedIn. As of press time, no response has been received.
Who Speaks for Lincoln Park?
According to public records, Leah Pedersen Thomas and her husband moved from Houston, Texas, to the Lincoln Park neighborhood in 2019. Thomas is the founder of privately-owned veterinary hospital group VitalPet. According to a company press release, the corporation’s board relieved Benjamin Thomas of his position and responsibilities as chairman, president and chief executive officer on Sept 12, 2019. No further employment information was available.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Pedersen Thomas currently serves as Senior Advisor and Division Chief at the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Hill Rag’s report of the Lincoln Park incident shocked many neighbors. They were surprised to hear such sentiments from a member of the Hill community, they said. Taking exception to the man’s claim to speak for their community, they felt compelled to name him.
The views of the man captured on the video are not representative of nearby residents, stated Jeni Schoemaker, a founding member of the Friends of Lincoln Park. She is unaware of any persons guarding the park with air rifles.
“We are not vindictive people, but learning that they moved here only a few months ago and are claiming that the entire community is against peaceful protesters, followed by a threat of assault with an air rifle is unacceptable,” wrote a concerned resident in an anonymous email to the Hill Rag.
“The woman who stood up to Thomas did an amazing job,” the person concluded.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of Leah Pedersen Thomas.