Community: Keep BP closed

3-24-2012-12-30-38-pm-9401299bp1.gifYouth protestors at Fenkell and Meyers BP. COURTESY
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT � Close to 50 community members have come together to protest the reopening of the BP gas station on Fenkell and Meyers, where Michael Haynes, II was shot and killed by the gas station�s attendant March 10. [See: �Family calls for justice in son�s death� March 18, 2012].

The station opened for business 30 minutes after the shooting when police tape was removed. Two days later, March 12, the store closed its doors for seven days but has yet to reopen as this paper went to press.

Protestors want to make sure the gas station never reopens. They say what took place that Saturday is bigger than just the fate of that particular station but is a message that things in the city need to change. Protestors are concerned with the relationship between the community and Arab and Chaldean merchants. But more importantly, increasing Black-owned establishments.

Organizers say a lack of economic consciousness, in a majority Black city, is part of the problem.

�It�s more than just shutting down a gas station,� says community activist Kwasi Akwamu. �We have a crisis in this city. We talk about crime as if it�s the problem … [But] most crime is driven by the economy. We [need to] build and protect our community.�

Akwamu says the combination of joblessness, lack of job creation, the stress of having to provide for families on little to no income and non-residential merchants who exploit the city and its citizens has to be addressed when discussing crime in the city.

Despite the fact many are struggling financially, African Americans drive several million dollars a month in bridge card funds into the local economy, according to Akwamu.

�So, even poor folk build-up the stores,� he said, referring to the way in which African Americans patronize Chaldean-owned markets and party stores and Arab-owned gas stations.

�[If] it�s going to reopen, it can give back by employing some of the residents � in partnership,� he said, adding that no one from the group of protestors have talked with the owner of the BP because he doesn�t believe they�re in a position to make concessions when someone has been killed.

Attorney Ray Paige says his client, the BP owner, has always had a working relationship with the community.

�[My client] does not condone that kind of violence,� said Paige. �He�s been there since 1994 and there has never been a problem in the community.� Paige says his client, whose name he says is being withheld for fear of civil unrest, has invested in the community for decades.

According to Paige, the attendant, Ibrahim Saleh, had only been working at the BP gas station less than two months and is not a relative of the owner.

Referring to the 1999 murder of Kalvin Porter by Arab attendants at a Sunoco gas station, Akamu said, �This isn�t the first time [something like this has happened]. We closed Mack and Gratiot for 10 years, waiting for foreign merchants because we refused to [open a business].�

Akwamu maintains there needs to be a conversation not just with this BP owner, but all the Arab-owned gas stations and Chaldean party stores about widely visible pornography, blunt wrappers and other inappropriate products where �women, children and elders can see.�

�These things don�t have to be in the windows for people to know they�re there,� Akwamu said. �I don�t see your aspirin, but I�m going to ask for one if I need one. It�s a wholesale disrespect of the community. You don�t see this out in Birmingham. Not because people don�t smoke weed,� he said, referring to blunt wrappers, �but because it�s not acceptable.�

Auday Arabo, president of the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers of Michigan, says their organization is concerned about the tragedy at the BP. Although AFPD did not represent that business before the shooting, Arabo says they stepped in because they didn�t want people to think what happened is indicative of the businesses in the city.

�As a community, we need to heal,� he said. �No one anywhere would say the clerk is right. What he did was very wrong.�

Arabo says, the AFPD hopes justice is served. He also told this reporter that the organization has worked with community groups Rainbow PUSH and MOSES in the past on issues and will continue to do so.

He says AFPD only represents a few stores in the city, but has heard the complaints about uncleanliness, disrespect and inappropriate comments to customers.

AFPD will be working with owners providing sensitivity training, he says.

�We�re trying to get to gas station owners and educate them on how to better work with the community,� Arabo said. �You don�t sell single cigarettes, pornography … you have to have a clean bathroom … I�d like to think the majority do.�

He added that if businesses are not providing quality services, the best way to put them out of business is to stop patronizing the establishment. �Go somewhere else,� he said, but acknowledged that transportation could be a problem for some.

Akwamu says there�s no bitterness toward the Middle Eastern merchants but there has to be a partnership between them and the community. �They have to step up their level of services � the way they operate has to change,� he said.

More importantly, he says, �we have to create businesses for ourselves.�

Contributing to the scarcity of Black-owned business is the fact that money does not circulate in the Black community.

�But,� says Akwamu, �we can�t let them think we�re going away.�

�Hopefully the brother would not have lost his life in vain. But we can do something for the greater good.�

Paige says he is in the process of meeting with two community leaders on behalf of his client to bridge the gap and misconceptions on the issues of disrespect relative to ethnic differences

Neither Paige or Arabo knew when the BP would repopen. Both commented that the protestors are not from that BP community and are being paid to protest.

�It�s not the residents in that community who want the station closed,� said Arabo.