By Barney Blakeney
Just over two months ago North Charleston residents along with the North Charleston-based S.C. National Action Network took to the street to protest the assault of a Black patron at a neighborhood convenience store operated by Middle Eastern businessmen. They returned to the street last week when an employee of another Middle Eastern-owned business was arrested for allegedly assaulting a 12-year-old Black male.
The smoke hasn’t cleared from the firestorm that was created after the March 31 assault of an alleged shoplifter at an Arab owned convenience store on Dorchester Road. Cellphone video captured the assault of the man being struck with a sword by store employees. National Action Network members and residents of the Dorchester Road neighborhood mounted sporadic protests that included picketing. Two weeks ago a coalition of protesters held a Saturday town hall meeting at a nearby neighborhood park to educate and inform residents, said S.C. National Action Network President Elder James Johnson.
A week later an employee at another Arab owned store was arrested for allegedly committing a similar act. Nineteen-year-old Azmi Abdelrahman admitted to kicking the boy who was in the store to buy a snack for his mother. An apparent miscommunication between the two resulted in the assault.
Johnson said the two incidents demonstrate a pattern of abuse perpetrated against Black patrons at stores operated by merchants who have little respect for Blacks and who seize the economic opportunity to exploit vulnerable communities.
After the March 31 incident, a cooperative of community-based organizations sought to address that exploitation. However, they were unable to sustain pickets and the boycott started immediately after the incident. Johnson said he has met with the owners of two other Arab owned businesses to discuss ways to heal social and economic wounds that pit Black residents against Arab business owners.
Rev. Nelson Rivers, NAN’s national vice president of Religious Affairs and External Relations after the March incident said beyond emotional rhetoric, it has become acceptable to allow others who are not members of predominantly Black neighborhoods to set up businesses which avoid hiring the residents from whom they draw wealth or reinvest in those communities. Absent an organized strategy of mutual support initiated by leaders in their neighborhoods, disadvantaged communities are at the mercy of unscrupulous merchants and other business entities, he said.
“Agitation without organization is just noise,” Rivers said in an earlier interview. Johnson said the fact that the most recent assault was committed against a child should spur the cohesiveness necessary to bring more business owners to the table and to reduce the disrespect and exploitation that’s become so common.
The victim’s mother, D’Jaris Porcher vows to be unyielding in maintaining a picket of the Spruill Avenue store where her son was assaulted. She’s recruited friends and family members to maintain vigilance. That her son was assaulted after the public spectacle of the March incident says some perpetrators are confident they can get away with the abuse without suffering consequences, she said.