By Barney Blakeney
Sometimes I get so backed up it seems there’s more stuff to do than time to do it. So it was several days after the incident that I learned about the March 31 assault of an accused shoplifter by operators at a North Charleston neighborhood convenience store. By then the incident had fragmented into so many pieces, it was hard to tell right from wrong.
The incident was captured on video and posted on Facebook. The video showed several minutes of the accused shoplifter being accosted by two men – one wielding a sword and striking the accused and the other man wielding a handgun to keep him at bay. According to a North Charleston police report the accused man entered the store and attempted to steal some incense. When he was approached by one of the store’s operators the accused man pulled a pocket knife and cut the operator. The Facebook video shows some of what took place after that. It shows the perpetrator being shoved around and struck numerous times.
I learned about the incident from South Carolina National Action Network Director Elder James Johnson whom I’d called for comments for another story. During the course of that interview Johnson told me about the incident and that he’d made controversial statements about the assault and its perpetrators to the effect that Arab merchants commonly abuse Black patrons and should go back where they came from.
Well blow me down! I couldn’t believe this guy, the leader of a Black civil rights organization, was saying some immigrants merchants should go back where they came from. I’ve got a good friend who says stuff like that about Hispanics. Having lived through the history in this country that is ours, I can’t understand how Black people can discriminate against anyone. And to make matters worse, both those guys, my friend and Johnson, are Christian leaders! That just doesn’t compute for me – Christianity and discrimination. Okay, I get it. Foreign nationals have got a lock on convenience stores in many predominantly Black low income neighborhoods. For some time now Black folks have been complainin’ that Middle Easterners operate businesses in Black communities and use that opportunity to financially exploit the community while often being abusive to their patrons. I’ve seen it personally. There’s a North Central convenience store I won’t patronize. You can’t talk crap to me and get my money.
But okay, what’s new? For generations foreigners have operated businesses in Black communities which exploit them – the Jews, the Greeks and a lot of others who didn’t look like us– all of ‘em set up shop and exploited Black communities. The only difference between then and now is that back in the day, segregation necessitated that Black folks also owned businesses. Those Black owned businesses still had to compete with their foreign counterparts for Black customers. My daddy used to say, “The other man’s ice always is colder.”
Two wrongs don’t make a right. You go in a man’s house and steal his stuff, you deserve to get your butt whooped. That’s the rule baby, and we all know the rules. But I also can go with more level heads which say although a man steals from your business, you don’t beat him, you hold him for the cops. Cool. All of that’s good. But here’s the kicker – why aren’t black folks running convenience stores in their own neighborhood?
I’ve watched this thing go down for decades. In 1970 as Charleston’s North Central neighborhood transitioned from predominantly white to predominantly Black, an older white couple owned the convenience store in our neighborhood- great people, kind, mild-mannered, respectful. When they retired in the 1980s they sold the business to some foreigners – Middle Eastern, Hispanics – I can’t remember. I know they didn’t sell to a Black person, though. By then the community was almost entirely Black.
That business has changed hands several times since the 1980s. Never has it been operated by Blacks. Now, I don’t know why that is. Maybe the owners wouldn’t sell to Blacks; maybe no Black person approached them about buying the business. But I know the neighborhood is middle class and presumably, some Black folks there have enough money to operate that business. Even if it took joint effort, I figure Black folks should be operating that store. I got nothing against the folks who run it now. I’m just sayin’.
I think it comes down to setting priorities. I got the police report about North Charleston’s ninth homicide victim last week – a 21-year-old man killed while carrying his child. No arrest or motive for the shooting has been determined, or at least the cops haven’t released any information to the media. I’m sure folks on the street know what time it is. But what got me is a handgun was found on the victim. Babies and guns? What’s the priority there? So last Saturday I roll by the store where the shoplifting incident occurred. I wanted to confirm the location. When I get there, the business owners are having a cookout and the brothers are just having a grand old time! The parking lot is full, the door to the store is wide open and brothers are streaming in and out like it’s the Fourth of July. Business was bangin’!
Now this is the business just as week earlier Johnson and crew were saying they would shut down because of the exploitation and disrespect. But there were no protesters, no picketers – only patrons walking in and out of the store carrying takeout trays filled with grilled food. Again I ask, what are the priorities? We’re living in confusing times. From Pennsylvania Avenue to Dorchester Road, the tail seems to be wagging the dog. When that happens, it’s hard to move forward. Nine homicides in North Charleston in three months, store operators threatening accused shoplifters with swords, the country on the brink of global war and a sister calls me Saturday night to ask if I’m going to the oyster roast at the lodge.
I couldn’t make the oyster roast although it would have been nice. An old schoolmate’s in town who wanted to do something fun. I just had too much stuff to do and there just wasn’t enough time to do it. I had to set a priority.