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The power of the picket

Daisy Joe divides the world simply. You are either on the side of good, or the side of evil. You either do right, or you do wrong. And if you do wrong, she will come for you with a picket sign.

As director of Black Citizens for Justice, Law and Order, Joe has marched in hundreds of picket lines through the years, protesting abuses by governments and corporations, working on behalf of African-Americans in particular and underdogs in general.

She has carried signs in front of the biggest of targets: EDS, Mrs. Baird's Bakeries, Lomas Mortgage USA, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Which is why the owner of a East Dallas Texaco station was toast the minute Daisy Joe suspected that his garage had screwed up a repair job on her daughter's car.

Sami Ebrahim, owner of the Texaco station at 10433 Garland Road, didn't know about Daisy Joe's picketing expertise when Daisy's daughter, Earnie Joe, brought in a 1986 Subaru station wagon for repairs. The car had overheated and stopped running.

The showdown began on May 29, when Daisy Joe went to the station to retrieve her daughter's car.

Joe, 50, was already irritated. The family had waited almost two months for the car to be repaired, she says, even though the station had promised it would be ready in two weeks. Ebrahim says the car was difficult to fix, and that his mechanics kept the Joe family informed of their progress.

When Daisy Joe arrived at the station with her husband, Arthur, she was told the repairs would also cost more than originally promised.

"The bill had escalated from $1,700 to $2,000," she says. "We went ahead and paid it, but then we noticed the back of [the car] was messed up."

The garage had dented the car, and done a shabby repair job to boot, Daisy Joe says. When she complained, she contends, a mechanic told her the body damage was done before the car came into the shop.

Ebrahim acknowledges that the Joes proceeded to form a dim view of his garage. But, he says, he tried to work with the family in the spirit of good customer relations.

He says he had explained early on to Earnie Joe, who is a lawyer, that repairs on the Subaru were complicated and could cost more than the car was worth. The 10-year-old wagon, Ebrahim points out, was full of dents and scratches when it came in, and he does not believe his employees added to the problems.

After the family complained, Ebrahim says, he offered to inspect the car for shoddy repairs and correct any problems free of charge.

But Earnie Joe rejected the offer, she says, because she did not trust Ebrahim's employees to make good on what they had already messed up.

When Ebrahim balked at paying for someone else to make the body repairs, Daisy Joe called the police. "They were lying through their teeth," she says. "Knowing how crooked they were, and all their shenanigans, I knew they were probably going to ask for more money."

As far as she was concerned, the whole affair reeked of highway robbery. An argument erupted between Daisy Joe and the mechanics. When police arrived, it was an irate Daisy Joe who was carted off to jail, arrested for disturbing the peace.

If Ebrahim thought that ended the matter, he was sadly mistaken. Daisy Joe, whose chubby form is full of enduringly indignant energy, would be back.

Other disgruntled customers might simply call the Better Business Bureau and lodge a complaint. But Daisy Joe has more experience than most when it comes to making her point.

She helped found Black Citizens for Justice, Law and Order in 1969 and has since led hundreds of pickets in front of dozens of companies and agencies, often ultimately winning concessions.

Her group's demonstrations helped convince the EEOC to speed up its process of informing people of their rights to file lawsuits after they lodge complaints of civil-rights violations.

The group also won a discrimination lawsuit against Lomas Mortgage USA on behalf of black employees in April. Joe has had less success with Mrs. Baird's Bakeries, which she describes as "one big plantation," but she hasn't given up yet.

"They treat their employees out there like dirt, and, of course, we are going to start back picketing the Bairds anytime soon," she says.

In the early 1970s, she and her husband walked a two-person picket line in front of The Dallas Morning News, objecting to the writings of a black columnist. The couple even led a small picket in front of a black doctor's home after he publicly opposed free health clinics in black neighborhoods.

Garage owners are not her usual fare, Daisy Joe acknowledges. But she considered the Texaco dispute a "consumer issue," and worthy of demonstration.

"I love to picket," Daisy Joe says. "When folks act a fool, the problem is already there, I just love to expose it. Racism is there. I just expose it."

After her May 29 arrest, Joe cooled her heels in jail for four hours. When she got home, she went to work right away, making signs. The next morning, Joe and 12 others showed up at the Texaco station, armed with the picket signs warning consumers about "shoddy repair work," "auto repair shams," and "crooked mechanics."

"It's sad that all these little foreigners come over here and do the things that he has done," Joe says.

She says she was surprised that 12 of BCJLO's 500 members actually turned out to help on very short notice. "I was elated that they felt this way, that they recognized there was a problem, and someone needed to do something about it," she says.

The following day, a Saturday, 31 people showed up to picket. The group passed out fliers and asked passersby to sign petitions demanding that Texaco strip the station of the company name and trademark star. Eventually, 34 people signed the petition.

"All these little white women would stop and tell us they had problems," she says. "We heard this over and over. Now, that's ridiculous."

Others signed the petition simply to show support for Daisy Joe herself. "She is good at heart," says Charles Clark. "I know her intention of this is not to hurt the guy, but she feels the guy took advantage of her and has taken advantage of other people. I envy her in doing that [the picketing]. Most people wouldn't take that step."

The pickets were bad for business, Ebrahim says. He felt the Joes were trying to make him pay for something that was not his fault. "They wanted something for nothing," he says.

But after a few weeks of protests, Ebrahim surrendered. He settled by paying Earnie Joe $3,150. Ebrahim, who owns 11 other gas stations, says he still is reeling from the encounter and feels like a victim of extortion.

Although he claims to hold no grudge, Ebrahim admits he wishes he had never met the Joes. "I tell you, I have been in the business 17 years," he says. "And I have never seen anything like it."

As part of the settlement, Earnie Joe agreed to dissuade family and friends from further demonstrations in front of Ebrahim's garage.

"I have agreed to stop, and ask others to stop, picketing the store if it has anything to do with my cause of action," Earnie Joe says. "But relating to [her mother's] concerns, if she continues to picket, that is her prerogative."

For her part, Daisy Joe still feels Texaco should remove its corporate name from the garage. Texaco executives say they investigated Joe's concerns and found no reason to terminate their contract with Ebrahim's Texaco.

"We do not consider this a problem location," says company spokeswoman Joby Humphrey.

For a time, Daisy Joe considered returning to the garage to picket as a symbol against consumer abuse, but she has abandoned the idea.

There is, after all, still the matter of her arrest. "I am a 50-year-old grandmother who's never had a parking ticket," she says. "And here I am, thrown in jail, and all I was doing was standing up for my rights."

Ebrahim and his gas station are old news. Next stop: The Northeast substation of the Dallas Police Department, where Daisy Joe's arresting officer is assigned.


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