Power imbalance creates an environment ripe for abuse
The imbalance in economic power between Detroit’s mostly African American residents and the Chaldean and Arab merchants who own and operate most of the food stores, convenience stores, check cashing stores and gas stations in our community creates an environment ripe for abuse. Although there are some Chaldean and Arab merchants who treat residents with respect, at far too many stores, clerks display an attitude of arrogance — often not even saying thank you to the customers who keep their businesses afloat. Regularly, Black youth are suspected of stealing, Black men are spoken to disrespectfully and Black women are flirted with derogatorily. In some cases, women are propositioned — offered a few dollars to perform some sex act.
Rather than engaging in real community partnership to contribute to the neighborhoods from which they extract wealth, many store owners build a small network of supporters by paying locals a few dollars to sweep and carry out boxes, or provide them with 40 ounces, credit, loosies (single cigarettes), or cashing checks without ID. Much like in the days of our enslavement, those receiving these type menial benefits stand ready to defend their “masters” against all criticism.
So it is within this context that on Aug. 14, a young Black woman, four-months pregnant at the time, was sexually abused by someone, who calls himself “Terry,” working in the Gratiot Check Cashing Store at 10384 Gratiot. The short version of the story is that the woman visited the store to cash her check, while her husband went to get sandwiches from a nearby Subway. The young woman was lured behind a door to receive her money, where she was propositioned, restrained and ejaculated on. Leaving the store in shock, the woman called her husband. When her husband arrived, he verbally confronted the perpetrator who was protected by a thick bullet-proof plastic barrier. The woman immediately filed a complaint with the Eastern District of the Detroit Police Department a mile or so away.
The full video testimony by the assaulted woman can be viewed at: www.youtube.be/2jAnLYKqqDE
After meeting and planning for six weeks and attempting to allow time for the prosecutor’s office to issue an arrest warrant, the Coalition to Demand Justice and Respect for Black Life decided to begin a direct action campaign on Nov. 29, picketing the store and calling on residents to boycott. The Coalition called for the closing of the store and the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator. Community members picketing the store turned around significant numbers of people. By the third day of picketing, the perpetrator locked himself into the store, turning off the lights and retreating to a room in the rear. Also, on the third day the owner of the building, a Black man, showed up looking to end the stand-off and expressing concerns he didn’t want his building to be “blown up.”
On day four of the picketing, a man identifying himself as both the owner of the business and “Terry’s” brother-in-law, showed up. He said he was closing up the business. He took “Terry” with him, locked up, and the business has not reopened since. The next day neighboring businesses reported the owner had also informed them the check cashing store had closed.
In spite of the naysayers, who proclaimed a successful boycott would require massive community support, and those who criticized the action as not being militant enough, it appears the Coalition has been successful in shutting down the store. It is a small, but significant victory. The Coalition will continue to monitor the store daily, and any attempt to reopen will be met with swift action.
But now the question is where’s “Terry?” Has he been shuffled off to another store owned by the family? Has he left the state? Has he left the country? The perpetrator must be held accountable for his actions.
This assault occurred four months ago, but there has been no arrest. The woman’s clothing, stained with “Terry’s” semen, sits waiting to be tested by the state forensics lab. The assaulted woman, now seven-months pregnant, has heard very little from the police. According to “Terry” in the Nov. 21 issue of the Michigan Citizen, he has not even been questioned by the police.
After repeated calls to the prosecutor’s office, the assaulted woman was finally interviewed a few weeks ago, and told that it could take another two months for the clothing to be tested. It is totally unacceptable that a woman could be sexually assaulted at a store on the east side of Detroit, and has to wait months for charges to be filed. The reality is: Justice delayed is justice denied! Our community deserves better!
Malik Yakini is a life-long Detroit resident and long-time community activist. He is also a member of the Coalition to Demand Justice and Respect for Black Life. Contact the Coalition at 313.731.2268.