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Violence near Akron convenience store divides two City Council members

September 19, 2018

Violence near Akron convenience store divides two City Council members

AKRON, Ohio - Teen violence in the vicinity of an Akron convenience store has prompted one City Council member to publicly call for the store to be closed, and another council member to oppose such a move.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Mosley Samples took to Facebook this week to publish a lengthy criticism blaming the the violence on the owners of Mr. Pantry on Copley Road, and calling for the store’s immediate closure.

That posting drew a response from Councilman Russel Neal Jr., whose Ward 4 includes the convenience store. Neal told cleveland.com he wants to keep the store open and is working with city officials and local leaders to address the violence.

Neal added that Samples did not talk to him before calling for the store’s closure. “Unfortunately my colleague has not asked me about anything,” he said.

It is customary for City Council members who wish to address issues outside their districts to reach out to an at-large council member or the ward representative, said Councilman Donnie Kammer, Ward 7.

“It’s no rule of law, it’s just respect,” Kammer said. “I would be really upset if somebody else was butting into my ward’s business.”

Samples also appeared this week on News 5 Cleveland, which reported that in the past year that Akron Police Department has been called 297 times to the carry-out because of fights, drug deals and shootings. Of those calls, 244 came from Mr. Pantry employees.

Samer Awawda, whose family has owned Mr. Pantry for 14 years, told cleveland.com that  the problem involves teenagers who don’t listen to him or their parents. And they loiter at Mr. Pantry rather than attend school.

His brother, Abdul Awawda said the kids gather at the store for the food.

“It’s Mr. Pantry,” he said. “They love chicken and jojos.”

An Awawda cousin, Bothynah Awawda, told News Channel 5 the owners are not to blame.

“We’re not here selling them guns and drugs and giving them bullets to shoot each other,” she said. “We’re trying to run a business; we’re trying to live.”

In her Facebook post, Samples blames the owners and calls for the store to be closed permanently.

“I will continue to stand on that,” she says. “I am imploring everyone who lives in that community for you all to take charge and take back your community. It is ridiculous what’s going on over there. I don’t know how many more young people have to be shot, have to be killed at 950 Copley Road, before we say that we have an issue.”

Samples contends she has a good relationship with Neal, and has spoken to him since she went public, but was unable to reach him before going live.

She went to Facebook feeling “raw” she said, because her son-in-law and granddaughter had been near Mr. Pantry when a shooting took place there on Sept. 13, and her granddaughter had been forced to lie on the floor of the car they were traveling in.

“Cars are getting shot and no one is saying or doing anything,” she told cleveland.com, adding there’s a reason none of the other stores in the area have had as much violence for so many years.

She said records kept by Akron police chronicling incidents at Mr. Pantry are so extensive they can’t be printed but had to be given to her on a thumb drive.

For starters, the store owners need to remove the many ads blocking visibility into the store and hire armed security, she said.

“If you want us off your back, do things to make it a safe environment,” Samples said.

Sam Awawda said the store always had security cameras, but has added a security system that is tied into the Akron Police Department.

Samples also started an online petition to have the store closed, which she said has more than 600 signatures, while a separate petition has about 200. She plans to present the petitions to City Council and other city officials once she collects 750 signatures.

Neal said he has been working for more than a month with the city Law Department, Akron police and community members to devise a plan for reducing the violence and avoid closing the store.

“The store is just one piece of a larger problem,” Neal said. He said his initiative involves bringing men in the ward together to “do our part.

“We’re responsible for what we allow to take place in our communities,” he said.

Neal said his group isn’t ready to disclose details of the initiative.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Charles Brown said the city is examining the situation at Mr. Pantry to devise a way to change the behavior of the teens who hang out there and to keep the store open.

Akron police Lt. Rick Edwards said police have stepped up their patrols at Mr. Pantry, going inside the store a couple times each day.

Akron resident Tom Rizzo, whose family has lived near Mr. Pantry for decades, contacted City Council to question the call to close the store.

Rizzo wrote in an email:

“Closing Mr. Pantry is a simplistic, misguided “solution” to a problem that is far, far bigger than one convenience store. What is it, exactly, that the owner of Mr. Pantry has failed to do that community has asked of him or expects him to do? How is he responsible for armed juvenile delinquents entering his store? He should not have to hire police officers, who should be patrolling this location on their own.”

Rizzo told cleveland.com in an email that although he appreciates Samples’ concern, “it fell flat with me.

“She at the very least should have discussed this matter with Mr. Neal first, or raised the idea of destroying someone’s livelihood internally at City Council first before going on facebook with a very one-sided presentation of the facts,” he wrote.

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