Editorial: ‘How would I have reacted?’ in smoothie incident

James Iannazzo was arrested and charged with second-degree breach of peace, first degree criminal trespass, and intimidation based on bigotry or bias on Saturday.

James Iannazzo was arrested and charged with second-degree breach of peace, first degree criminal trespass, and intimidation based on bigotry or bias on Saturday.

TikTok screengrab

If there’s a walkaway from the viral video of a father’s noxious tirade at a Fairfield smoothie shop, it’s that it is inspiring many viewers to consider different perspectives.

Though captured on video, the story has evolved with subsequent tellings. The initial narrative offered over social media such as TikTok was simple: A customer in a Fairfield Robek’s hurled anger, racist comments and a smoothie at teenaged employees as they asked him to leave.

The father, Fairfield resident James Iannazzo, was immediately flogged in the public square of social media, charged by police with intimidation based on bigotry or bias, breach of peace and criminal trespass and dismissed from his job as a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch. He’s worked at the firm since graduating from University of Connecticut in 1995.

Iannazzo’s actions weren’t just hostile. Throwing the cup and trying to get to their work area crossed the line into frightening. We condemn his toxic words and actions. Everyone recognized Iannazzo’s reaction was inappropriate, even Iannazzo.

“They do not reflect my values or my character,” he said in the statement. “I feel terrible that I lost my composure so completely.”

But something interesting happened after Iannazzo and his lawyer added details to the narrative. Iannazzo said his rage was fueled by his 17-year-old son being taken to the hospital while suffering with life-threatening anaphylactic shock after digesting the smoothie.

“After he started to drink his smoothie, my son lost the capacity to breathe properly; his lips and face swelled up, and he required an EpiPen shot, but it did not offer him relief. I called 911,” Iannazzo said in a statement describing his son’s nut allergy. “My son then went to the bathroom, threw up and fell unconscious to the floor. He threw up again. My wife gave him another EpiPen while I called 911 again.”

Those are poised words, far removed from the fury captured in the video.

It didn’t excuse Iannazzo’s horrid actions, but it inspired many people to ponder what they might have done with a loved one suffering in a similar situation.

“I’m trying to imagine how I would have reacted,” became a refrain.

It’s worth embracing, and celebrating, such empathy. During this historic pandemic, even those who have successful dodged COVID can’t escape heightened stress.

Such anxieties have put social workers on watch for increases in the likes of domestic violence. Incidents of road rage in the streets and “Cov rage” in businesses are becoming far too commonplace. Some restaurants struggling with staffing issue have posted pleas for patience.

Not all pundits on comment boards were compassionate. There is a twisted irony that some people wrote unseemly attacks aimed at those they felt were giving Iannazzo a pass.

The Fairfield incident is also a cautionary tale that food workers can carry a weight of responsibility similar to that of a lifeguard. Attention to allergies demands attention from those on both sides of the counter.

Iannazzo’s behavior will long be summoned as an example of how not to respond in times of crisis. But if anything should go viral, it’s the response of compassion.