It would be a grave injustice to equate the unprovoked beating of the owner of a neighborhood store to the violence visited upon the dregs of society.
Jihad Niser, owner of the Rainbow Red and White Grocery Store on Elm Street, was pistol-whipped during a robbery last Sunday evening. The three thugs were captured on the store’s surveillance camera roughing up Niser and stealing items, including a cigar box behind the counter containing cash for the business. There was about $7,000 in the box.
Niser, like other neighborhood store owners in the city of Youngstown, is a law-abiding citizen who pays taxes — property and income — and provides a service to a segment of the population that more often than not has fallen through the cracks.
These businessmen and -women are often looked upon with disdain because of the perception that they prey upon the vulnerable. And while there are those whose business practices do leave a lot to be desired, most follow the law and take pride in their businesses, sell legitimate products at reasonable prices, and do favors for regular customers who are in dire straits.
Many of the owners have been victims of crime.
Police Detective Sgt. Don Scott was on target when he said that the Niser beating was unnecessary and brutal.
“They did not have to beat him the way they beat him,” Scott said. “They chose to beat him like that.”
The storekeeper had seven stitches on his head, according to 21 WFMJ-TV, The Vindicator’s broadcast partner.
The video of the attack has gone national via the Internet. It once again turns the spotlight on the city of Youngstown’s high crime rate.
Police Chief Rod Foley met Thursday with the Greater Valley Grocer’s Association and Wick Park Neighbors Committee to discuss how they could together address the crime problem, according to WFMJ.
“We want to make sure to let them know we are working on it,” the chief said. “We’re trying to determine if there’s one group, two groups [of thugs], or just randomly being done,” Foley said. “And we want to let them [the grocers] know that we’re gonna work with them to try to reduce the likelihood of that happening again.”
The grocer’s association is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the three men who attacked Niser. Crimestoppers is also expected to offer a cash reward.
Niser’s son, Majd, expressed the sentiments of many of the neighborhood store owners when he said, “We are just regular people trying to make a living.”
That fact is lost on the critics of these businesses.
In 2009, some city officials, community leaders and residents all but declared war on the stores, saying they are contributing to the destruction of city.
This writer took exception to the broad-brush approach by Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and the Idora Neighborhood Association.
Here’s what Ian Beniston, MVOC director of policy, and James London, INA president, wrote in response to the contention that many store owners work long hours year in and year out:
“To suggest sympathy for people because they work 12 hours a day 365 days a year to peddle the tools of destruction to a neighborhood is simply ridiculous. Epidemiological studies have clearly linked sales of alcohol to increased crime rates.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that while police Chief Foley was assuring the business owners that his department will do all it can to address the crime situation, Councilwoman Gillam, Beniston and London were no where to be found.
Meeting a need
The attack on Niser does raise a question that has been asked, but not answered, ever since Gillam and others began targeting the neighborhood stores: What will happen to the inner city residents who depend on them for their daily needs if the stores close?
The idea that these shoppers will travel to the full-service grocery outlets is simply ridiculous.
The attack on Jihad Niser was obscene, because it undoubtedly was carried out by individuals who are nothing but leeches. They deserve to be put away for a long time.
In the heyday of the Mafia, had Niser sought the mob’s help, the thugs would be sleeping with the fishes.