Boycott of grocery store urged after stricken customer is dragged out

October 26, 1990|By Susan Schoenberger

Neighborhood residents organized a boycott of a West Baltimore grocery store yesterday after a heart attack victim was dragged outside and left on the sidewalk because the store's owner and manager believed he was drunk, witnesses said.

The man, identified as James Drumwright, 57, of Druid Park Drive, was left for about 20 minutes on the sidewalk before an ambulance was called, the witnesses said. He was pronounced dead later at Liberty Medical Center.

Passers-by were so outraged at the man's treatment that about a half-dozen people stayed outside the store until 7 p.m. to urge shoppers to boycott the grocery, the B&M Market in the 3100 block of West North Avenue. The protesters said they planned to return to the store today.

The store owner, Kenny Kang, said last night that the incident was an understandable mistake.

"If we had any idea he had had a heart attack, we would have called the paramedics," Mr. Kang said. "They [the protesters] have a false assumption that they [store employees] dragged him out knowing he had a heart attack."

Store manager Marcus Gaffney said yesterday that a woman customer told him about 10 a.m. that a man was slumped over the meat case at the rear of the store.

He said he went to check and saw a liquor bottle poking out of the man's back pocket. When Mr. Gaffney tried to rouse the man, he said, the man urinated on himself.

"I feel bad now, but I thought he was drunk," Mr. Gaffney said.

Charelle M. White, the store's cashier, said it was Mr. Kang who told Mr. Gaffney and another worker to take the man outside.

"They dragged him on his stomach outside the store," she said.

It was another 20 minutes before a passer-by ran across the street to a fire station to get help, she said.

About the same time, Mr. Kang said, he went out to check on the man and called 911.

Ms. White, who has worked at the B&M Market for about three months, said she doesn't plan to return to work.

At closing time, Valerie Douglas, who said she shops in the neighborhood every day and had witnessed paramedics working on the man, was telling people not to shop at the store. She said she would be back at 9 a.m. today to picket.

"In the time they were dragging him out of the store, they could have run across the street to the fire station and he'd be alive today," she said.

Leslie C. Howard, president of the Alliance of Rosemont Community Organizations, said last night that the group would organize a meeting -- possibly tonight -- to help defuse area residents' anger over the store owner's actions.

Mr. Howard said residents would probably see racial overtones in the incident since the store owner is of Korean ancestry and the heart attack victim was black. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been notified about the situation, he said.

"We want a thorough investigation into what occurred here," Mr. Howard said. "This kind of thing can cause tension in the community."

Tensions between Korean-American store owners and blacks are not new.

In Baltimore, where many Korean-American store owners work in predominantly black neighborhoods, cultural differences between the two groups have caused misunderstandings, and there have been several incidents in which storekeepers have been the targets of violent crime.

In New York City, blacks have been demonstrating since early this year over an incident in Brooklyn in which a Haitian woman complained of being attacked by a Korean store worker.

Police officers at the North Avenue store said they would patrol the area last night to prevent any problems. They also said a community relations representative would work with Mr. Howard's group to investigate the incident.

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