Days after the Middle Eastern operators of a North Charleston neighborhood store assaulted a black suspected shoplifter South Carolina National Action Network President Elder James Johnson said in a Monday press conference “Arabs” should go back to their country. The video of the assault sparked minor violent backlash from some in the predominantly black community where the store is located before National Action Network swooped in to minimize the response to Johnson’s comments.
In a Tuesday telephone interview as about 30 protesters marched across the street from Andrews Discount Market in the Waylyn community on Dorchester Road Johnson said his remarks were misconstrued.
At a 4 p.m. press conference NAN officials scampered to deescalate the situation. Rev. Nelson Rivers, NAN’s national vice president of Religious Affairs and External Relations called the press conference to clarify comments made by Johnson at the previous press conference.
In a pre-released statement NAN said, “The purpose of this press conference is to ensure that NAN’s policy and mission statement disavows any comments that suggest that we support discriminatory comments or policy against people of Middle Eastern descent and to seek a meeting with Middle Eastern business owners in the near future. This is an opportunity for us to have an overdue dialogue around the complaints of African Americans about treatment by Middle Eastern business owners and our responsibility to never support or make blanket discriminatory statements about any group of people based on their origin or heritage.”
At the 4 p.m. press conference Rivers said, “The purpose of this press conference is to ensure that NAN’s policy and mission statement clearly disavows any comments that suggest that we support discriminatory comments or policies against people of Middle Eastern descent. I have spoken to the national office of National Action Network and they want me to reiterate that we cannot condone any suggestions that our organization supports discrimination against any group based on national origin or heritage. That part of Elder Johnson’s statement was unfortunate but his status with NAN will be reviewed at our annual convention in New York April 26 – April 29, 2017.”
Rivers added, “We support Elder Jonson’s call for a meeting to have a long overdue dialogue around the complaints of African Americans about their treatment by Middle Eastern business owners. While we believe that it is important to reassure members of the Middle Eastern community that we do not support discrimination against them but at the same time we must have a serious conversation about interactions between members of the African American community and these business owners.”
During the earlier telephone interview Johnson also said the incident represents an opportunity to address a larger issue. The bigger issue, he said, is the unwillingness of affluent blacks to invest in businesses that serve predominantly black communities.
There are those in our community who have the financial resources to reinvest in the black community, he said. While they have benefited financially from the sacrifices made by others during the Civil Rights Movement, they use those financial benefits to move away from black communities taking vital experience, economic assets, and entrepreneurs’ with them.
Vowing to protest the assault of the suspected shoplifter until the store’s owners either close or open under new management, Johnson said the protest is as much about black community reinvestment from within as it is about any transgressions committed by others outside the black community.