Yellow police caution tape barred people from entering the Gas Mart at the corner of Delmar and Goodfellow boulevards on Tuesday. No one could buy gas. No one could shop at the store.
The temporary closure came after a woman was kicked by two store employees outside the business on July 24. The woman has been identified as Kelli Adams. Protests ensued a few hours after a video of the incident went viral on social media.
In the video, Adams is seen yelling obscenities at two gas station store workers. They are yelling back. After a few moments, one man kicks her. Then, moments later, the other man does the same. Demonstrators called for immediate closure of the business. It is unclear how the altercation started.
Note: The video below contains language that may not be suitable for all viewers.
Gas Mart Operational Manager Tahani Jabbar said at a Tuesday press conference that owners closed down the business “for the community to heal.”
There were no reported injuries or reports of property damage at initial protests. But tensions last week led to someone vandalizing the convenience store. A security guard pepper-sprayed demonstrators when events escalated.
“This previous week was the worst operational week in Gas Mart history. We were horrified by the actions of two of our former employees who took it amongst themselves to act out through isolated action,” Jabbar said.
She added that the business does not condone the actions of the employees. Both men, Ahmed Qandeel, 19, and Jehad Motan, 32, were charged with assault. A store representative says they are no longer working at the store.
“We cannot express how truly sorry we are for the action, frustration and disrespect Ms. Kelli Adams has experienced,” Jabbar said. “We have begun implementing corrective steps to take meaningful action to help heal the community."
The store’s next steps include providing financial support to Adams, enacting stricter rules about loitering on store property and requiring employees undergo sensitivity training. There are 40 Gas Mart locations in the St. Louis region.
Store representatives also said the business would continue donating to community organizations and employing qualified people in the community.
State Rep. Karla May (D-St. Louis) said Tuesday she has been in talks with local activists who want to see local stores “reinvest in the community.”
This notion of community reinvestment is a point of contention for residents who believe that corner stores and convenience stores in mostly black neighborhoods not only sell items that cause more harm than good but take the proceeds of those sales out of the community.
Demonstrators are requesting, in addition to helping Adams and conducting sensitivity training, that owners remove certain items from the store they deem harmful to patrons — such as accessories associated with drug use — and begin treating customers better.
“You find all too often that people are taking the wealth out of our community, becoming wealthy themselves and not reinvesting in our community,” said St. Louis activist Darryl Gray. “And so we’re saying, 'You can’t continue to do that.'”
Ward 26 Alderman Frank Williamson plans to call a community meeting with local leaders, residents and store owners.
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.