As a Black American, my basic rights — to vote, be served in restaurants, and attend certain schools — were achieved only after brave civil rights marchers took to the streets and demanded equal treatment.
So, I am a big believer in protesting. History has shown us that nothing big ever changes in this country until large numbers of us stand up and insist that it does.
But there’s a big difference between demonstrating righteous anger at Monday’s police shooting of a mentally ill man in West Philly and the senseless mayhem and destruction that broke out when people began taking merchandise from stores and businesses. Stealing from Walmart and Target and other businesses distracts from what the focus should be on, and that’s the senseless killing of Walter Wallace Jr.
So stop it now! Destroying businesses hurts people in the communities they serve. We need pharmacies and food stores open so residents can get medicine during a pandemic and eat. Police need to stop killing Black people. But Black people also need to stop killing each other and each other’s dreams.
Jameelah and Jamil Scurry sold their house, maxed out their credit cards, and invested all of their savings to open La’vanter boutique in North Philly two years ago. The brother-sister duo traveled to Paris Fashion Week to purchase unique items the likes of which have not often been seen in the 1300 block of West Venango Street, where they set up shop. A barelythere, Beyoncé-style feather dress was their No. 1 best seller.
All of that was destroyed Monday after young people broke in through their front door and took everything. Store security video shows two young women entering as if they intend to shop — only the store is closed. As one of them removes a white purse with a gold chain shoulder strap, she can be heard saying, “I hope we do not get caught up in this bitch." Then, about 30 young men rush in and snatch merchandise off the racks. It’s disturbing to watch.
“This is the second time we’ve been violated by people who look just like us,” the store owners wrote on Instagram afterward. “Please refrain from ordering anything on our site. We have nothing left.”
La’vanter isn’t like a Walmart or Target. Big-box retailers can readily regroup when they’re vandalized as they were earlier this week. It’s different for small-business owners like the Scurrys and others whose stores have been ransacked and burglarized. This was the second time this year that La’vanter was hit. The last time was in August when thieves came in through the front window. The Scurrys may not even reopen. Would you?
“We wanted to invest in our neighborhood. My mom is from 12th and Cambria and my dad is from Nicetown-Tioga,” Jameelah, a former crossing guard, told me Wednesday. “Everyone who comes in would say, ‘You shouldn’t be here. This store looks like it should be on South Street.' Because you know South Street is like the main attraction, but we are where we need to be. This is the area where we wanted to be.”
Her brother, a former Philadelphia police officer, alerted her early Tuesday to what had happened. A cash register, an iPad, and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise — some of it imported from France — was all gone. And some of it was captured on video.
“I had to watch years of work be diminished in a minute,” Jamil said.
The co-owners are waiting to learn whether their losses will be covered by insurance.
A bright spot to what happened to them is how people have stepped up to help the business rebuild. A gofundme.com they started has raised more than $23,000. But they’ll need more than that to recoup.
What they may never get back is a sense of security. As Jameelah pointed out, “You want to have nice things in your community, but if you keep getting torn down by your own people where does it leave you?”