PANAMA CITY BEACH — Two days after Pier Park security wanted him to leave, Decaris Hunter felt loved.
Hunter and supporters attended a “Spread the Love” rally Friday at Freshii, a Pier Park restaurant.
Pier Park security initially wanted to trespass Hunter from the shopping center Wednesday but the order was dropped the same day.
Community support for Hunter and anger toward Pier Park has been swift after Hunter and local media, including Paco on the Radio, publicized the incident. Hunter reflected on the past few days during the rally while people gathered and wore “Spread the Love” T-shirts.
"I definitely wanted to come out and show that we still want to spread love. We want to let everything go. I don’t hold no grudges towards nobody,” Hunter said while surrounded by his family. “I just want to come out and still spread love. I was welcomed by my Freshii team.”
Videos posted to Facebook by Hunter show conversations he had with a security guard and police officer, who said he could be trespassed from the Panama City Beach shopping center because it is private property. However, Hunter was welcomed back Friday with open arms and no trouble.
Hunter is a Bay County icon known around town for displaying signs saying “Spread the Love.” Many say he cheers them up, especially after Hurricane Michael.
“That’s why I couldn’t turn it down. I've seen so many people who wanted to come support ‘Spread the Love.’ That’s what it’s all about,” said Hunter, who hugged supporters when he arrived. “It’s about us choosing to love over everything.”
Misti Cooper, a close friend of Hunter, said she was “heartbroken” when she heard about Wednesday’s incident.
“I’ve been following him since right after the storm when we got social media back up. I know it hurt his feelings more than anything,” Cooper said. “He makes people smile. He makes them forget about things for a while. I’m hoping he’s bringing us all back together again.”
Freshii owner Caleb Smith called Hunter a “local hero who’s spreading the love” and has a unifying and uplifting message during a time of local and national divide.
“When we saw the events that occurred, one thing we talk about and we focus here at Freshii on is the idea of the triple bottom line. For us it’s not just about profits. It’s about people and the planet,” Smith said. “This spoke to our mission right away, and we wanted to reach out to Decaris to engage with him and let him know we value the mission he’s on and invite him back here to Pier Park.”
Hunter got a Freshii “Spread the Love” shirt, ceremonial key and free food for a year. Hunter said he wants a face-to-face conversation with the security director behind the trespass to “squash this beef.”