The shooting of a clerk at Park Grocery late Tuesday night is the latest in a long list of violent crimes against immigrants who run most of Rock Hill’s convenience stores.
Stores where the people who own and run them work 12-, 14-, 16-hour days, six or seven days a week. Stores in neighborhoods, not fancy places on busy highways, where people who so often were customers return with ill intent.
The clerk who was shot at the East Main Street store is an immigrant from Korea.
Park Grocery is the same store where, five years ago, 15-year-old Yvette Williams robbed the Korean immigrant clerk at gunpoint. When two police officers confronted her 100 yards down Main Street, she pointed the gun straight at them. Both officers fired, killing her.
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Williams’ brazen crimes were caught on the store’s surveillance video and police dashcam video that day in 2009. There was no question she pointed the gun at the cops. No doubt she refused to obey repeated commands and drop the gun.
The gun turned out to be a BB gun made to look exactly like a Saturday night special, but nobody including the terrified store owner or police knew that at the time. Her own criminal actions caused her death.
To this day, including Wednesday, fabric flowers adorn the crepe myrtle tree that marks the spot where Williams died.
Now, five years later, two guys robbed the Park Grocery again and shot the clerk. In May, the same clerk was beaten senseless with a baseball bat in another robbery.
Word got around among the immigrants who operate dozens of stores around Rock Hill. Stores where families work, sometimes around the clock, rotating shifts, to make money that can pay for college for their children. To pay mortgages and make car payments. To pay for the American dream that is so often shattered by criminals toting guns.
Employees of Mike Sharifi, a native of Iran who operates two Mr. Express stores, were robbed at gunpoint just last month. The crime remains unsolved.
“I hope all these people are caught,” Sharifi said, then got back to work. Immigrants rarely have time to worry.
“We are getting bits and pieces, hearing about it,” said Huy Pham, whose Vietnamese immigrant family operates a store on Willowbrook Avenue. Pham and his parents escaped Vietnam in a rowboat. For this they have bars on the doors and windows of their store.
Less than a mile west of Tuesday’s shooting is the Cherry Road discount store where clerk Vipul “Rick” Patel was shot in a robbery attempt by two men who lived around the corner and had been in the store numerous times. Both men were caught by police who saw them running away. Both are now serving prison stretches of more than 15 years.
Patel still goes to work every day with two bullets in his body. He went to work Wednesday after hearing about the Park Grocery shooting.
Immigrants who come to America, for the most part, just work and work. They save and save and send money back home so others can survive or make their way here, too. Too many times, people who are from America, people who will not work, use guns to steal from them.
Rupal Patel, an immigrant from India who owns Herlong Express, was disgusted by the most recent shooting.
“We all pray and hope the man who was was hurt recovers and those who did this are caught,” he said.
Another immigrant from Korea owns a convenience store just two streets over from Park Grocery. He and his wife have worked for so many years. In 2007, a serial robber and shooter named Phillip Watts robbed him at gunpoint. After seven robberies and shooting four people, Watts was caught and is now serving seven life terms in prison.
A Chinese immigrant was among Watts’ four victims.
The Korean man who was robbed by Watts continues to work uncountable hours at the store so his daughter can keep making the dean’s list and the president’s list at Clemson University.
“I hope the man is all right,” that store owner said of Tuesday night’s shooting victim.
The list goes on.
Omar Patel, an immigrant from Pakistan, was killed in a 2007 Fort Mill armed robbery that remains unsolved.
Malek Salem, a Yemeni father of two small children, was gunned down in a 2010 robbery less than a mile from Park Grocery. His death remains unsolved.
There are no flowers anywhere for all these immigrant victims of crimes. Nothing is nailed on any tree near where Salem was killed or where Patel was shot or the Korean immigrant was shot Tuesday. Not even flowers at the Park Grocery store.
You can’t nail flowers to the American dream.