CHICAGO (CBS) — When the owner of an Andersonville deli wore a certain T-shirt to work last week, he never dreamed it would lead to hate-filled reviews on Yelp.

Last week, Piatto Pronto owner Mike Itta donned a shirt with the words, “I Can Breathe, I Obey the Law,” referring to the 2014 arrest of a 43-year-old Eric Garner, a black man who was killed when a New York police officer put him in a choke hold. Garner repeatedly told police “I can’t breathe,” and those words have since become a popular slogan for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Customers took a photo of Itta wearing the shirt, and the picture soon was posted online.

Then, to paraphrase Itta’s unairable words, the salami hit the fan. His phone started ringing off the hook, and his Yelp reviews tanked.

“If I offended anybody — anybody — I’m really sorry,” he said. “I’m not a racist. Did you people, before you put those nasty words, did you call me and ask me to hear my side of the story? No, because you’ve never been in here. You’ve never seen my face. You don’t know me.”

Itta said he had no idea what the shirt meant, and even if he did, he should have the right to wear anything he wants.

At last check, Yelp was removing any reviews that are obvious commentary on Itta’s shirt, rather than the business itself.

“This business recently made waves in the news, which often means that people come to this page to post their views on the news,” Yelp said in an Active Cleanup Alert message on Piatto Pronto’s page. “While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business.”

Among negative reviews that have yet to be removed on Yelp include one from a woman who said Piatto Pronto was her “fave sandwich place” until she saw the photo of the shirt, and vowed “never again.”

Another reviewer defended Itta, writing:

“It’s too bad that small-minded people have posted negative reviews about his establishment based solely on a shirt he was photographed in. People like this try to silence those with different opinions by describing them with toxic labels such as “racist” and “bigot” without even knowing them. That seems pretty racist and bigoted to me. Grab a sandwich here and support free thought and free speech.

Itta said, despite the wave of bad reviews after the picture of him in the shirt went viral, his business is holding steady.

“Everybody’s coming in here to support. They say the bad news is the good news. We’re going to come here to support you,” Itta said.

He also said he has burned the controversial T-shirt.