Daily Archives: July 23, 2009

On Corner Stores, Storekeepers and Race Relations


A couple weeks ago, I witnessed a disturbing incident on Fifth Street. While on my way to work at the library, I stopped by a mom and pop store on the same block to pick up some Spiderman stickers (for bribing my student, naturally). I was rummaging around the stationary shelf when I heard a scuffle. I peeked over to find the proprietors, who happen to be Korean, scuffling with a young black boy. One man was holding him down and another was patting him down. “You shoplift! You shoplift!” shouted the younger man, as he reached into the boy’s pocket.

“I didn’t shoplift nothing, man!” said the kid. And sure enough, they could find nothing on him.

Now I don’t know whether the kid fit the profile of what they perceived to be a shoplifter, or whether he was just about to shoplift when they confronted him, or whether he was just an innocent bystander. Who knows? As the kid walked out of the door, I met his eyes. He was furious. His face reflected his anger and humiliation.

The neighborhood in which the incident occurred happens to the place where I grew up. Some people call it Little Korea. Some call it the Latin Ghetto. Suffice to say, a large percentage of the neighborhood’s merchants (whose businesses line Fifth Street) are Korean-Americans.  And their customers are mostly black and Hispanic. Race relations in Olney? Everybody minds their own business. We try to get along. We do. Most of the time. Continue reading