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Demonstrators encourage gas station boycott after employee discharges shotgun

Days after another incident in Sherman Park, demonstrators are holding strong on their call for a boycott of a local gas station.

In the evening hours of Tuesday, July 19, an employee and son of the owner of the BP station at 3114 N. Sherman Blvd. discharged a shotgun twice outside of the business, according to accounts. About 40 Black youth, including young children were assembled in the parking lot on the corner of Sherman Boulevard and Burleigh Street when the shots were fired.

“I can’t leave here until my people tell me I can leave here, until my people feel … like they got justice,” said Frank Sensabaugh, one of the protest leaders also known as Frank “Nitty,” who hasn’t left the spot since Tuesday night.

“That guy who shot in the air, he’s already charged,” said the store’s owner, who declined to give his name. “What else [are] they looking [for]?”

Local media reported the man, Bhupinder Sidhu, was charged Thursday with a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct. Sidhu is expected to make an initial court appearance on July 27.

Sensabaugh said a call for Sidhu to face charges was one of the demands of demonstrators. “If we would’ve let this thing, right here, go, we wouldn’t have had any media coverage, nobody would’ve said anything about it, the man never would’ve been charged, it would’ve been swept under the rug,” he said.

But Sensabaugh also said the goal of the ongoing demonstration is to show it is not acceptable to respond to Black youth the way this employee did. He said if this same incident happened in Brookfield, the entire community would be outraged.

“You go to these other communities and a store-owner does that, they’re gonna let you know there is no reason for you to do that towards kids,” he said.

A 29-year-old protester who identified himself as James “Boss Man Hunchos” said he was present during the incident. Hunchos said the fact that the charges were brought two days after the event and the man was not immediately arrested demonstrates a double standard.

“The thing is: all it takes is for a couple people to say the same thing and you should be under arrest,” said Hunchos. “Like, if I’m right here, standing right here, and four people across the street call the police on me and say, ‘Yeah, dude over there just shot,’ they’d come over here and arrest me because those four people said that. I could say, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and they’re still gonna arrest me.

“You’ve got 30 people out here telling you this man just shot, and they didn’t arrest him. That’s injustice. That’s the way the system works, though. The system, with us, is real fast,” said Hunchos, who is Black. “With us, [it’s], ‘Get ‘em, get ‘em, get ‘em.’ With everybody else, it’s, ‘Well, we’ve gotta process, we’ve gotta investigate, we gotta do this, gotta do that.’”

There have been multiple confrontations between police and youth recently in the area.

“The kids were very upset,” Sensabaugh said. “They stood out here with me. I tried to show them the way the justice system works and what he (Sidhu) did wasn’t right, and the police came outside and escorted him to his car and he drove off.”

Milwaukee police did not return a call to District 7 Friday night requesting comment.

The incident

Tuesday night, Sensabaugh, Hunchos and about 10 to 15 other adults held a party for the youth in Sherman Park. In response to recent events, where area youth clashed with police in riot gear on June 29 and police arrested a Black teenager during a peaceful protest a night later, organizer Vaun Mayes Bey started going to Sherman Park every day from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. to work with the youth. Over the three weeks since, other parents and adults have joined the group, as well.

According to Hunchos, there were about 100 youth present during the event. At 10 p.m. the park closed and Hunchos said some of the children wanted to go to the gas station, which is across the street. He acknowledged that after June 29, when a window at the BP had been broken by a rock, employees might have felt “threatened,” so Hunchos and others escorted about 40 youth to the establishment.

Hunchos said the situation arose because employees would only allow two youth inside the store at a time, locking the door behind them.

“One of the kids banged on the door, might’ve kicked on the door, because the kids that were already in there were taking a long time,” he said. “And, that’s all that happened.”

“Thirty people, 40 kids come and, you know, we have to lock the door,” said the store’s owner on Friday.

He confirmed that only two or three — at another point, he said three or four — youth are allowed in the store at a time. The policy was not clearly posted near the entrance, and the man could not specify an age at which the policy would no longer apply, only saying it applies to “teenagers, youngsters — not old people.”

Though Hunchos also said kids have probably stolen from the gas station in the past, he said nothing was stolen Tuesday night, and it “probably wasn’t even the same kids.”

He said, after the shots, most of the children scattered, but he and a group of the adults approached Sidhu. “We went up and talked to him, but he ain’t really have no reason for what he did … It’s just, ‘All these kids always over here, woo, woo, woo, doing this and doing that,’” said Hunchos. “But y’all door [was] locked and they got adult escorts out here … so, I don’t really understand.”

“See, one or two of our Black kids will steal from them and instead of taking their pictures and banning them from the store, they’ll create a system that holds all the kids accountable for what a few did,” Sensabaugh said.

“So, then, now, in the community, you’ve got all these people saying, ‘These bad kids, these bad kids.’ Every one of them isn’t bad. You’ve got 40 kids and two kids do something, that doesn’t give you the right to hurt the other 38,” added Sensabaugh. “They’re not a group — they’re individuals in a group.”

Hunchos noted that there were children as young as 5 present when the shots were fired; he said one of the shells hit the gas station canopy and could have ricocheted, potentially hurting someone. He said people in the group, some of whom stayed until around midnight waiting for the situation to resolve, were trying to tell police what had happened. According to Hunchos, the four or five officers who arrived at the scene “[weren’t] really trying to hear us out.”

Sensabaugh said adults in the group spoke with the children the very next day, and told the children they were wrong for their part in the incident. But he also said the response by the store owner and police provides a bad example for the youth. “We’re basically teaching our kids that … when they grow up, they can shoot in the air whenever they want to disperse a crowd,” he said. “And, that’s not okay — we can’t teach them that.”

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The BP station's owner reduced the price of gas twice -- by more than 50 cents -- over the course of a couple days. (Photo by Jabril Faraj)

The BP station’s owner reduced the price of gas twice — by more than 50 cents — over the course of a couple days. (Photo by Jabril Faraj)

The boycott

About 10 to 15 demonstrators were still camped out on a sidewalk by the gas station Friday morning, speaking to other African-Americans who pulled into the lot and encouraging them to go elsewhere.

After speaking with demonstrators, Dywayne Horne and Robert Morehouse, who had stopped at a pump, left the gas station and said they wouldn’t be coming back. “Why spend my money here with them, and they’re shooting at our kids? That don’t make no sense,” Morehouse said.

Though some still patronized the store, many left before purchasing gas. One man pulled out of the parking lot with his fist in the air. Sensabaugh said the boycott is showing the importance of the “Black dollar.”

The FOX 6 Gas Price Tracker shows that Wednesday the price per gallon at 3114 N. Sherman Blvd. was $2.49 per gallon. The price per gallon for every other gas station in the immediate area was under $2.15. Social Development Commission (SDC) District 2 Representative George Matthews said the owner initially dropped the price to $2.13; Friday, regular gas at the store was set at $1.99 a gallon.

Protesters have been taking donations of food, water, cash and more, with community members stopping by to drop off necessities. According to leaders, the group has a permit and has no plans to leave. “In order to be effective in protesting, you can’t just protest for 20 minutes or two hours,” said Sensabaugh. “We’re showing strength, we’re showing that Black people can come together, and that we can be together for the long-run.”

He added, “We’re showing other businesses, as well, hey, we can shut your business down, too.”

The children

Stacey Green, a mother of four and grandmother, is one of the community members who started coming to Sherman Park to work with the youth. She said she’s been at the park every day for the last couple weeks. Green, who watched over the donations tent Friday morning with two of her grandchildren, was also present during Tuesday’s incident; she called it “disheartening.”

“We started forming relationships, you know, with some of the kids and just finding out some of their stories,” Green said. “Some of these kids are homeless, you know … they don’t have anywhere to go.”

Sensabaugh said when people, particularly those in the Black community, talk negatively about the youth they start to think that nobody believes in them. “They hear that,” he said. “They see that on Facebook. These kids that are trying to be good, it’s like, ‘You know what, what’s the point?’”

Green said it’s important that people show up to show the children that there are people who care about them. “These kids, they’re not animals, they’re not savages, but they’re being treated like animals.”

“We ain’t left,” said Hunchos. “We’re looking for justice, and we’re looking for our community to stop acting like we’re wrong … for standing up for the kids.”

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