I own New York Market in Oakland. My brother Tony was kidnapped and my store got burned down. The day before those incidents happened, my store was vandalized.
I don’t know why my store was targeted—it was definitely a slow day, the day before Thanksgiving. A lot of stores were closed early that day. We were still open. Were we just a convenient target? I don’t know.
Ironically, my father was murdered in a liquor store before I was born. He owned a small market in Brooklyn, New York. While working late hours, he was confronted with a robbery. According to my second cousin (who was 12 at the time and with my father in the store) my father tried to disarm the robber and was shot.
Father was murdered during the holiday season, very similar to this time. According to my clerk at New York Market, his family was in the back room of the store as it was being ransacked. The similarities between what happened at my store and what happened to my father are eerie.
I did not open a store because I had no other options. I genuinely love people and the business I am in. Many of these small mom-and-pop stores are making a living because of the long hours they work. If they calculated their time, some might find they make less than minimum wage.
Why are there so many liquor stores on almost every block in Oakland? You really have to look back. There were a lot of opportunities many years ago, 20, 30 years back for these convenience stores because we couldn’t get those large retailers in the city. Oakland still has great difficulty getting an Albertson’s or a Food 4 Less. We just recently got a Wal-Mart.
There were a lot of opportunities for people to open up these convenience stores to serve these neighborhoods where there are no other stores. The City of Oakland does not allow new liquor stores. The stores that are there have been there for 20, 30, 40 years and more.
My store had been in business for over 60 years. The closest grocery store to my market is in Emeryville, three or four miles away.
Yes, we sold alcoholic beverages but we did not have hard liquor, just beer and wine. Out of the 16 cooler doors that we had in the store, I believe that four or five were used for alcoholic beverages—so you couldn’t say we were just another liquor store. We had a meat department a full line of groceries and a small produce section. It was a market. It was definitely not a liquor store.
When a customer would come into my store, we’d treat them like family. We felt like they were like family. We were a part of that community. We were providing a service to them, and the money that they spent in our store fed my family.
It really hurts me to hear black people saying, “Go back to your own country.” We’re Americans and it seems everywhere we go we have to deal with racism and discrimination.
Despite what the news media has been reporting, I’m not from Yemen. I’m Palestinian. I was born in the United States; I’m a U.S. citizen. My parents came from Palestine, where Judaism, Christianity and Islam are practiced. In the city where my family is from it is not common to have liquor stores, though it is not taboo. So for those who say, “Sell the store and go back to your country,” it wouldn’t be in violation of the law there.
I believe in God. I was born Muslim. Can I say I’m the perfect Muslim who prays five times a day? No. But man cannot judge me, only God can judge me. No one else can judge me.
Everything happens for a reason, but I’m upset. I’m 30 years old—it’s not like I’m a young man or an old man, but I’m an individual who worked hard. Nobody put a silver spoon in my mouth.
Sometimes the bad opens the door to a lot of good. This won’t hold us down—there’s a lot of work that needs to be in Oakland and this is our opportunity to address a lot of concerns people are voicing about liquor stores in the community. We should take these concerns seriously and sit down with everybody and talk about how we can address that issue.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know. Right now it’s sit and wait. Put yourself in the position I’m in—you’ve lost everything you’ve worked so hard to get, and now you have to start all over.
Moe Saleh, the owner of one of the markets, has refused to speak with mainstream media. This essay was transcribed from a radio interview on KMEL Street Soldiers Program. Joe Marshall is the co-founder and executive director of the Omega Boys Club.