As promised, Korean and black leaders met today in Oak Cliff to announce the end of the Diamond Shamrock Kwik Stop protests on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Rev. Ronald Wright addressed the media first, standing next to Korean Society of Dallas vice president Ted Kim. The two were flanked by blacks and Koreans representing various organizations and churches. And behind them was Tommy Pak, the owner of the Fair Park-area gas station and convenience store that's been the subject of scorn from some in the black community for several months.
"We have come here for forgiveness and atonement, which will create movement between the African-American community and the Korean community," Wright said by way of an opening. "Mr. Pak had agreed to make a public apology, and as people of God -- as Christians -- we must forgive him."
Pak's Kwik Stop was first protested after a December 9 altercation with Nation of Islam Student Minister Jeffery Muhammad, who did not attend the press conference. The two were said to have traded racial slurs, though Muhammad maintains his innocence. Muhammad and NAACP Dallas President Dr. Juanita Wallace have pledged to continue the protests -- and Muhammad and his supporters were out in force moments after the press conference, matter of fact.
At the press conference Pak looked extremely uncomfortable and spoke only briefly. He was sweating so much that at one point, his glasses fogged up; at another, a Korean leader procured a handkerchief and wiped Pak's forehead. Pak spoke haltingly, apologizing again for his behavior, thanking his supporters and reaffirming his faith in God. "I've been blessed," he said.
"On behalf of all Americans who are of Korean descent, on this day I want to express sincere regret for the unfortunate events that took place," Kim said. "However, I believe it has provided us with a great opportunity to come together and create strong partnerships and bonds with the black community and its leadership."
The two sides negotiated earlier this week, with the help of a mediator from the U.S. Department of Justice, and reached an agreement all involved have said they hope will bind the communities together. They drew up a proclamation, which every leader signed. Though they didn't release the terms to the public, Rev. Wright said Koreans and blacks have agreed to educate each other about their respective cultures and to trade business know-how. He didn't expound further, though his brother Donald Wright did offer Unfair Park further details.
"They're going to teach us how to be bankable," Wright said, which, he hopes, will allow more blacks to start and own their own businesses. "At the same time, they have something they want us to teach them, like politics." Koreans, he said, hold little if any power in the Dallas political sphere, despite a sizable population.
During the press conference, Rev. Wright also said to his Korean counterparts: "You say you believe in Jesus, and I believe in Jesus. There should be no difference."
After the press conference, Tommy Pak, Ted Kim, community leader Charles Park and other Koreans got into their cars and drove to Pak's store to fill their gas tanks, ceremoniously signaling the end of the protest.
But, this afternoon at least, it appears far from over. As a matter of fact, they arrived to the largest group of picketers in weeks. Muhammad and about a dozen members of the Nation of Islam, many of whom were wearing suits and ties, held up signs and drove off customers. Juanita Wallace was conspicuously absent. Several motorists honked their horns as they passed in support. According to Muhammad, there's no end in sight, and the Nation of Islam will keep protesting "until the people say justice has been done."
"At what point should we say we should accept his apology when Minister Farrakhan has given us an eight-step atonement process," Muhammad said, deferring to Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam. "We are not even past the second part, because he's still lying about what happened in the store." Muhammad said of those black leaders present at the press conference, "Those who spoke don't speak for us."
Tensions rose when Pak's lawyer, Richard Barrett-Cuetara, pulled in to fill his tank of gas. Muhammad began to loudly berate him, referring to him as a "white boy" and a "lying lawyer."
With Pak inside the store, the Koreans didn't leave, nor the black protestors. Despite all the earlier efforts, despite attempts to quell the racial dispute and vitriol, it seems like we're right back where we started.