A week ago Monday, two people picketed outside Diamond Shamrock Kwik Stop on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. "Don't Stop, Don't Shop," and "They're Using the 'N' Word," their signs read. The day after that, there were three. One snapped my picture for crossing the picket line and entering the store. The other two held up the same signs.
Last Wednesday, no one showed up. This weekend, the temperature dropped into the 30s. Four people picketed on Saturday. Monday, it was cold and rainy. There was one guy out front. Guy out front: We salute you.
It's amazing what a few days of bad weather will do to a movement, chilling support as people get bored or cold or have to go to work or stop believing in The Cause.
When Schutze broke the story a la hat-cam a while back, we were all told that Thomas Pak, the gas station's Korean owner, simply had to go. The story was one of his employees shot a black thief dead for stealing a candy bar, and that Pak called Nation of Islam student minister Jeffery Muhammad a "nigger" and told him to "go back to Africa." Black leaders such as Muhammad, Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace, activist Joyce Foreman and the Reverends Ronald Wright and Peter Johnson converged on the gas station and store, first to protest, and then to lay plans to buy the station. They planned to turn it over to black ownership, and this nasty story would have a happy ending.
But the story ended not with a buyout but a whimper. The Cause met Reality. Reality won. (Last we checked, Reality was undefeated.)
The truth was that black thief, Marcus Phillips, wasn't after a candy bar. He tried to run off with the whole damn cash register. Tragic as it was he died, a store that can't hold onto its cash register isn't a store for long.
And it turns out that Jeffery Muhammad was in the Kwik Stop giving as good as he got as he traded racial slurs with Pak. Now, almost two months later, you've got a roomful of black leaders who claim to be fighting for South Dallas, and South Dallas doesn't care.
Wright says the Shamrock protest was a community issue, and "the community should be lining up to protest."
What community is that, though? Blacks and Koreans and everyone who lives or works in South Dallas are all in the same bleak boat. In the center of a food desert, self-appointed community leaders fought to close a store instead of opening a competitor in a nearby abandoned storefront. The longer this protest continued, the separatist fear became more obvious.
I was in a room with some of these leaders last week as they argued over what to do with the Kwik Stop. At first they thought I wrote for the Weekly or the Examiner. When they realized I worked for the Observer, I was kicked out by Wallace and Muhammad for not being "black press." (I've written professionally for a month; I've been black since 1988.) I wasn't from their side of the Trinity, and so I wasn't one of them.
Neither, apparently, are the store owners trying to survive in South Dallas. To the protesters, the neighborhood is divided into two camps: "the community" and those trying to exploit it. Consider what Muhammad said this weekend when Wallace let him tag along for a sit-down with Korean-American leaders:
Muhammad said American history shows that Italians, Indians, Arabs and other ethnicities have moved businesses into black communities to steal opportunities from them.
"I believe everyone has benefited to the downfall of black people," he said. "You are now just the next person in a line of people who have come to the black community and taken advantage of people who have been destroyed in this country."
He speaks as though opportunities are not something to be grasped, fought for, acquired by hard work, but simply stolen, like a cash register. What, exactly, is stolen when other cultures move into abandoned lots, integrate with blacks and compete for business?
Wright, Johnson, Muhammad and Wallace -- who claimed to speak for all of South Dallas -- said they would try to find someone to buy the store, and if they couldn't they would just protest it out of business. When no one materialized, they tried to do that: just shut it down.
But why, exactly, should the community line up behind that cause?
It didn't, of course, which is probably why Wright called yesterday to say he and Johnson were going to call a press conference announcing they were backing out of the protest.
"It's a victory, but if we wait much longer it's going to turn into a loss," Wright told me. And Wright's right. Pak lost thousands of dollars in revenue and business. He apologized publicly for using a slur. That's a win. Pack it up, toss the signs. Let's go home.
"I was trying to shut them down," Wright admitted of the Kwik Stop. "But the people crossing the picket line weren't white or Korean. The people crossing the picket line looked like me."
That's because most of the people around the Shamrock need the Shamrock. There's a liquor store next door, an open-air drug market down the street and not a grocery store in sight. Isn't that worth protesting?
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