SOME PEOPLE Just have a talent for making an ugly situation uglier.
Tensions were already running high enough last week in the wake of the police shooting of Charles “Mista Dee” Smith in west Savannah on Sept. 18.
The surveillance videos from the convenience store on Augusta Avenue where Smith was arrested weren’t as conclusive as hoped. They showed Smith confronted by police while in line inside the store, fighting with several officers before being subdued, then patted down briefly and put in a police car.
The later fatal shooting of Smith inside the car happened further down the block, and isn’t recorded that we know of.
But the videos were “proof” enough for Chatham County Commissioner Yusuf Shabazz, who had the brilliant idea to go to Augusta Avenue, pick up a bullhorn, and accuse the convenience store owner of “cooperating with police” —and thereby, in Shabazz’s eyes, being somehow culpable in Smith’s death.
(I guess he expected the owner, dependent on the City for permits and licenses etc., not to mention police protection, to tell the cops to go screw themselves?)
In street rallies, Shabazz encouraged this already-impoverished community to boycott one of the few businesses there, alleging the owner tipped off police to Smith’s arrival. Given the well-documented food desert that is the Westside, the store is one of the few nearby sources of any kind of nourishment.
So after a violent summer of shootings capped by a racially-tinged officer-involved fatality, as politicians and police complain that the main obstacle to fighting crime here is the credo of “snitches get stitches,” one of our elected officials basically proclaims that... snitches should get stitches after all.
There’s a case to be made that public trust in police, locally and nationally, has eroded to a dangerously low level, and there might be very clear reasons for that. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to address the issue.
Shabazz’s actions are dangerously close to yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre—reckless and inflammatory to the point of illegality.
The owner not only fears for his business, but perhaps for his safety and that of his family, which has decades-old roots here after emigrating from another country. The fact that both Shabazz and the owner apparently share the same Islamic faith appears not to matter.
This is how messed up it is: The store’s not even in Shabazz’s district. It’s in Commissioner Priscilla Thomas’s. And she’s not happy about Shabazz’s antics.
Of course, this happened the very same week the County Commission, including Shabazz, voted to dissolve the decade-old city/county police merger in not-unjustifiable disagreements over funding and control.
I wonder what the three finalists for Savannah/Chatham police chief think about all this chaos, unrest, and racial discord, and why any of them would still want the job.
The only silver lining is that the irresponsible idiocy exhibited by Commissioner Shabazz—whose wife, Estella Shabazz, is on City Council, don't forget—prompted a speedy backlash.
As outrage and disbelief spread over Shabazz’s open call to anarchy, without prompting people began posting on Facebook that they'd made the trip to Augusta Avenue specifically to patronize that store.
A Coke here, a Sprite there. Maybe a bag of Doritos. Anything, to show support.
A Moveon.org online petition urged local officials to demand an apology from Shabazz. There’s even talk of a recall election.
Turns out Shabazz isn’t the only one who can pick up a bullhorn and yell.