‘SEX ASSAULT AT STORE’
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — After the alleged sexual assault of a pregnant Detroit resident on the city’s east side, a coalition of community members are calling for the store where the assault took place to be shut down. The perpetrator should be arrested and prosecuted, say organizers of The Coalition for Justice and Respect for Black Life, which was formed as a result of the incident.
On Aug. 14, a 30-year-old African American woman was allegedly sexually assaulted by a clerk — who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent — at the Gratiot Check Cashing store on the corner of Gratiot and Knodell. At the time, the woman was four months pregnant.
The woman, who asked that her name be withheld, told the Michigan Citizen she had oftentimes visited the store to cash her check before the day of the assault. The same clerk always handled her transaction and she never had a problem.
“We never had a conversation,” she said. “He would just cash my check and that was it.”
This day, however, the transaction did not go as it had in the past.
“(It) was taking long,” she said, adding she ended a phone call to inquire why it was taking longer than usual to cash her check.
“I asked him, ‘what’s going on, is something wrong?’ He shook his head no.”
She says when he finally put the money through the opening of the bullet proof glass, he pulled it back as she reached for it.
He did this more than once. She asked why he was “playing” with her.
At this time, she says, he didn’t say anything but buzzed a door only steps away from the window where he would sometimes dispense money in large amounts or if there are other people in the store.
“I was a little leery about that,” she said because it wasn’t a large amount and there was no one else in the store.
But she says, when she went to the door to retrieve her money, he stepped back —again pulling the money away — from her. As she stepped forward to reach for her money, the door closed behind her.
“So I was reaching for my money, he reached for my breast, and then he went down to my stomach, and he said, ‘are you pregnant?’ and I said yes.”
“He said, ‘who did this to you?’ I said my husband.”
She said she thought he would stop but he didn’t.
“He was trying to get me to have sex with him, telling me “I got a big one,’” talking about his genitals.
She says, while he held her arm tightly, he pulled out his penis and began rubbing against her, at which point he ejaculated onto her shirt and pants.
“When he stopped he said, ‘you can go’ and gave me my money.”
She reported the incident that same day and turned evidence — her soiled clothing — over to the Detroit Police Department.
Weeks later, she says, Detroit police officers visited her home with photos of suspects. At that time, she identified her perpetrator.
Between then and Nov. 19, when she was interviewed by the prosecutor’s office, she had not heard anything from DPD, although she says she made many calls to follow up.
She believes if she had not gone to members in her community, she still would not have heard from legal authorities.
Members of the coalition first learned of the assault in early October.
According to DPD Sgt. Ronald Oatis, the investigation has concluded and an arrest was not made.
“The warrant was submitted to the prosescutor’s office on Oct. 8,” Oatis wrote in an email. “There is no additional information on the status of the warrant at this time.”
Asst. Prosecutor Maria Millier, spokesperson for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office told the Michigan Citizen they received the case Oct. 11, but has “requested further investiagtion by the police.”
“We are requesting further investion from DPD for things that are necessary for us to make a decison,” she said. “We often ask for futher work so that we can have everything needed to decide whether we can prove a case beyond a resonable doubt. This is a not-in-custody warrant, meaning the suspect is not arrested.”
Regarding the delay in following up with the alleged victim she said, “ “We are understaffed so we have some delays in doing witness interviews.
Atty. Jeff Edison of the National Conference of Black Lawyers said he supports the efforts of the coalition to seek justice, but understands forensic investigations can be a lengthy process now that evidence goes to the State police.
“That does take quite a while because everything goes to the State and they’re usually backed up.”
But, he said, “I don’t know if that’s the reason for the delay.”
“If this was a young white transplant from Corktown or Midtown and this happened he would already be locked up,” said Oya Amakisi, spokesperson for the coalition. “We still face a case where we have to prove we’ve been assaulted.”
Amakisi says the way the pregnant woman’s case has been handled is “disrespectful.” She said the store was closed for only a few days shortly after,“But when they saw nothing was happening,” the store re-opened for business.
Amakisi believes the message is “(Black women) are not worthy in our own community.” She referred to the deaths of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones and the recent shooting-death of Renisha McBride, among other African American women, as an indication of a rise in violence against Black women. “Where it’s ok to kill us, to sexually assault us and we’re on the wrong side,” she said. “It’s not ok.”
Long-time community activist and lifelong Detroiter Malik Yakini said a message has to be sent. “The Black community and all justice-loving people must send a clear message to merchants doing business in Detroit that disrespect, abuse and assault will not be tolerated,” Yakini said.
The clerk, who goes by the name Terry, told the Michigan Citizen nothing happened.
“Never,” he said. “Nothing happened here, never. It’s not true. How can we do that when we have customers and have bullet proof glass?”
He also said the store never closed in response to the woman’s allegations.
“That’s stupid. We are married and have kids. We don’t do that kind of thing,” he said. “Because I’m by myself and have no witnesses. They will say anything.”
Terry said there has not been an investigation of him or the store where he “only works.” According to Terry, “The police never came.” He believes accusations are being made against him for money.
“People they (are) trying to get money from sexual harassment,” he said.
The Michigan Citizen was not able to reach store owner Jamal Qonja for comment by press time.
The Coalition for Justice and Respect for Black Life is holding a community information session Nov. 22, 6:30 at Timbuktu Academy at 10800 E. Canfield St., Detroit, 48214. For more information call 313.731.2268.
The Coalition for Justice and Respect for Black Life is a group of concerned, caring citizens and community activists. The coalition was formed as a result of the sexual assault of a four-month pregnant African American woman by an employee at the Gratiot Check Cashing store. The specific goals of the coalition are as follows:
– Ensuring justice for the four-month pregnant African American woman
– Closing the Gratiot Check Cashing store
– Providing education around the issue of sexual assault in the city of Detroit
– Demanding respect from business owners in the city of Detroit for African American customers
The majority of the businesses that occupy the city of Detroit are owned and operated by individuals that are neither residents of the city nor African Americans. Within this context of cultural difference, disrespect and misconduct occur frequently. The Aug.14 assault exemplifies this cultural disconnect. This coalition declares sexual assault shall not be tolerated by anyone on any level. We are calling on the Detroit community to assist us in reaching our goals by standing united behind the four bullet points above.