A DEATH AT SMITTY'SAN INSIDE LOOK AT THE HOMICIDE THAT HAS INFLAMMED THE BLACK COMMUNITY
The coroner's report said it all; Ric Rankins' death on July 10 was a "homicide." A scrawny 144 pounds, Rankins had his voice box crushed by a choke hold. Unnamed employees of Smitty's grocery chain killed the 43-year-old black man in a west-side parking lot.
Three days later, the Arizona Republic's Abraham Kwok unearthed an eyewitness to the killing who recounted in savage detail the beating of Ric Rankins.
Describing the black man as a "suspected check bouncer," Kwok wrote the eyewitness saw Smitty's employees kicking the victim's head repeatedly, "smashing it against the concrete pavement."
When the eyewitness, Bob Hess, attempted to intervene, he remembered a Smitty's worker snapping, "Stay out of this or you're next."
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. San Antonio Spurs
TicketsMon., Oct. 3, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Utah Jazz
TicketsWed., Oct. 5, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Oct. 7, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Oct. 8, 7:00pm
The stomping was labeled an "uncalled-for attack" by Hess, who said the grocers continued to assault the defenseless Rankins "viciously" after the black man was subdued and "hog-tied in knots," even going so far as to taunt and laugh at the dying check bouncer.
Although the death of Rankins had stirred blacks, the homicide had been in the media for two and one-half days without causing tremors outside the minority community. It was Kwok's incredible eyewitness account on the front page of the Arizona Republic that shook the Valley.
Unfortunately, Kwok's story was a lie.
There is no Bob Hess. There is no eyewitness who saw Smitty's employees put the boot to Rankins.
That is not how the man died.
On the morning Kwok's article appeared, Arizona exploded.
The phone lines into Smitty's were so tied up that the chain's director of personnel, Kevin Salcido, had to help answer calls.
"On Friday morning, we switched them [phones] on at 8 a.m.," said Salcido. "Immediately, there was an overwhelming negative response. Hundreds of people were calling us murderers. Friday was the worst day. I just pled with people to keep an open mind. That article was what got things going."
Reached for comment, Kwok admitted he was the victim of what he called a "hoax."
According to Kwok, he received a call from someone claiming to be Bob Hess who recounted over the phone what he'd seen. Hess said his wife also saw the attack.
"Hess" also called Smitty's, where he spoke to Stan English, telling Smitty's lawyer he had photographs of the incident.
When Hess called the police, he left the phone number and address he'd been dropping all over town with the message that he was a witness to Rankins' death.
Later, when detectives attempted to locate "Hess," they discovered there was no such address and the phone number was that of a gas station pay phone.
The day before Kwok ran with his phony story, he checked with the cops.
The police say they told the reporter that while they had a name, they'd been unable to verify the witness's existence. Kwok claims the police identified Hess as a credible witness.
All this finger pointing over Hess is beside the point. If Kwok was as concerned about Hess' story as he claims, it was easy enough to check out.
Had Rankins been kicked about the head and had his skull pounded into the pavement as Hess said, the evidence would have shown up in the autopsy.
Maricopa County medical examiner Heinz Karnitschnig, when asked by New Times, stated there was "no significant physical trauma to the head." But Kwok never took the obvious step of checking with the medical examiner before writing his story. Neither did he check a cross-index directory for the Valley that would have shown him the address he had was phony.
Kwok claims he called the number "Hess" had given him and it was answered by a child who said his daddy wasn't home. Kwok can't explain who answered the gas station pay phone number he'd dialed.
The Arizona Republic bannered the fabricated story across the top of the front page.
The "Hess" article "just about ruined my life," said Kwok.
The reporter's remorse, however, was not accompanied by a retraction.
If Abraham Kwok was devastated, imagine then the effect his story had upon the family of Ric Rankins, upon Valley blacks or upon the executives of Smitty's who, the very morning Kwok's incendiary article appeared, were scheduled to meet with a delegation from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Black Muslims.
THE CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS of Smitty's in Arizona sits in an industrial park on South Seventh Street, over the viaduct and just north of the dry Salt River channel. In this generic setting on July 13, after everyone had had an opportunity to digest the brutal "reality" of Kwok's article, an improbable meeting took place.
Just before the meeting, Phoenix Police Chief Rubin Ortega phoned Smitty's lawyer Stan English.
"He was pretty upset about the article," recalled English. "He said this witness [Hess] is not a true witness. Ortega said `We told the reporter to be very careful. We haven't talked to the guy. We don't know if he's legitimate. You can do a lot of damage if you publish this story.'"
If Smitty's leaders thought the black delegation would be mollified by the news that Kwok's startling article was built upon lies, they were in for a shock.
The black representatives did not give a damn about Kwok's blunder.
Muslim leader Umar Sharif asked what Smitty's would do if two of its employees were caught fighting in the store?
When told that Smitty's would suspend the brawlers pending an investigation, Sharif demanded to know why Ric Rankins' killers had not been suspended pending an investigation.
The Arizona Republic's slipshod reporting was irrelevant.
Regardless of the details, a black man was dead at the hands of Smitty's employees. What did Smitty's intend to do about it?
That afternoon Smitty's suspended the two store managers, Marvin Davis and Michael Torres, directly involved in the choking death of Ric Rankins.
Far from being the typical parlay of powerful corporate insiders and fully vested minority leaders huddling to resolve a racial crisis, the July 13 meeting was a sit-down between outsiders and strangers.
The grocery store chain is owned by Canadians and its CEO in Arizona, Ted Johnston, as well as Smitty's in-house counsel, Stan English, are from north of the border. And while their local vice president and fellow negotiator Steve Weiskittel is a graduate of St. Mary's High School in Phoenix, he had no more idea than his Canadian colleagues who the hell Umar Sharif of the Nation of Islam was. The NAACP spokesman, the Reverend Oscar Tillman, was also a relatively unknown quantity, having arrived in Arizona just this past December from the Pacific Northwest. (Within days of each other, both Reverend Tillman and counsel Stan English would stumble over the exact identity of Art Hamilton, perhaps the most powerful black politician in Arizona.)
Within a week, Smitty's would slam the door on negotiations with black leaders, issuing a press release they labeled "final and conclusive." Kim: please use these pullquotes with this part of the feature.
If Abraham Kwok was devastated, imagine the effect upon the family of Ric Rankins, upon Valley blacks or upon the executives of Smitty's.
If Smitty's leaders thought the black delegation would be mollified by the news that Kwok's startling article was built upon lies, they were in for a shock.
MARVIN DAVIS WAS the on-duty manager of the Smitty's at 3325 West Bethany Home Road the night Ric Rankins died.
Spotting Rankins as the man who'd written bad checks in his store the preceding weekend, the manager kept his eye on him. When the suspect left the store without buying anything, the store manager followed.
Davis informed Rankins that he'd be arrested for trespassing if he returned to Smitty's. Rankins reacted angrily, shouting back. The argument escalated into threats, then pushing, and finally Rankins, according to several witnesses, turned to a girlfriend sitting in a waiting cab and said, "Give me my gun, babe."
Rankins bent into the cab, thrusting his hand toward the back of the seat. Fearing that Rankins was reaching for a pistol, Davis grabbed him. (Police would later discover Rankins was shoving fake ID behind the seat.) As the two men tumbled back into the cab, Davis put his arm around Rankins' throat and kept it there.
The two rolled out onto the sidewalk where other Smitty's employees helped subdue Rankins and tie him up.
After being bitten by Rankins, the store manager got off Rankins, and his place was taken by MikeMDRV?? Torres, who put a second choke hold on the black man. Though now restrained and bound with rope, Smitty's employees continued to sit upon Rankins.
By the time the police arrived, Rankins was near death.
No gun was ever found.
Should the store manager have gotten out of there when Rankins lost control? Was Rankins the sort of man who could convince a stranger he only had seconds to live?
"`I've got to stop him or he's going to kill me,' is what I thought," recalled Davis last week.
In April, he'd been stopped and found in possession of three guns, including a 9mm semiautomatic pistol as well as $2,384 in cash that he could not explain. A K-9 police dog identified the money as having been in contact with drugs.
One month later, in May, he was arrested for breaking into a former girlfriend's apartment. As the police report reads, "He started smoking crack cocaine and when she asked him to leave, he refused. Pugh (the girlfriend) states that Rankins advised her if she called the police to have him removed, he would kill her." Last month Rankins was again arrested, this time for pointing a large pistol at a man and, yelling, according to the police report, "If you try to follow me, I'll blow your fucking head off."
On July 10, a cab stopped near the intersection of 24th Street and Broadway, an intersection in South Phoenix notorious for the sale of crack. The driver picked up two fares, a lady named Donna Marle Biscoe and a man she knew only as "Dirty T."
Donna's companion that evening, "Dirty T," was actually Ric Rankins. As they drove toward Smitty's, he had to be pretty confident.
In the four preceding weeks, he'd passed more than fifty bad checks at various Smitty's for a total of $3,270. Nineteen of the checks had been turned over for collection to the County Attorney's Office, the rest were making their way slowly through the system.
After his death, Rankins' female companion in that fateful cab ride to Smitty's talked to the police.
Donna Marle Biscoe--a.k.a. Donna Marie Lowe, a.k.a. Tiffany Jones, a.k.a. Sherry Robinson, a.k.a. Cherry Robinson, a.k.a. Florence Acuna, a.k.a. Donna Marie Briscoe, a.k.a. Donna Marie Biscoe, a.k.a. Donna Viscoe, a.k.a. Ruby Brown--told police she and Rankins had stopped at a drug house where Ric was "freebasing cocaine and drinking Jack Daniel's Whiskey" before going to Smitty's.
Although Donna did not recall Dirty T asking for a gun, she clearly remembered him saying to the Smitty's people, "Don't put your hands on me or I'll kill you. If you touch me, I'll kill both of you." And while Ms. Biscoe did not hear Rankins ask for a gun, other witnesses, including the cabdriver, did.
Marvin Davis and his fellow Smitty's employees didn't know any of Ric Rankins' background, but they did know they were facing an angry man who was threatening violence. In hindsight, Rankins' record suggests that his threats weren't empty.MDRV
When the average person reads this litany of death threats, reads the criminal history, reads of the drugs, reads of the weapons violations, the natural tendency is to say good riddance to Ric Rankins.
Perry Ealim is not the average person.
Ignoring for a second the fact that passing bad checks or using drugs is not a capital offense, Ealim asks simply why there's a double standard of justice, one for whites, another for blacks.
Ealim, 38, emerged as a community organizer in the wake of Rankins' death and volunteered time at the NAACP, where he was told over the phone, "A nigger like you doesn't deserve to live."
Ealim's rhetoric makes him dangerous. He asks people to compare the Rankins case with that of Ronnie Barlow.
Accused of killing a white man, Barlow, a black, was put in jail, pending investigation, as soon as he turned himself in following the October 7 shooting.
The coroner's report labeled Rankins' death a "homicide" almost immediately, yet no one was arrested.
"Someone should have been arrested in the Smitty's case, pending further investigation," argued Ealim.
The victim in the Barlow shooting, Robert Lockwood, was in a car full of white guys when an accident nearly occurred with Barlow, who was on a bicycle.
After exchanging racial slurs, Lockwood got out of the car carrying a bottle and advanced on Barlow.
A massive bodybuilder, Lockwood kept coming until the smaller black man pulled a gun from his sock. At pointblank range, Barlow pulled the trigger and killed Lockwood. An autopsy revealed Lockwood was well beyond legally drunk.
Convicted of second-degree murder, Barlow was denied a new trial last Friday.
It is impossible for blacks not to compare the justice meted out to the black Barlow versus the justice lavished upon the Smitty's employees.
Rankins' misdeeds were matched by Lockwood's.
Convicted of smuggling drugs (steroids), Lockwood also was on probation for two counts of child molestation.
A cop testified at the trial that Lockwood had a reputation for using and selling cocaine. Another police officer said in an affidavit that despite having his service revolver drawn and cocked, Lockwood had threatened the officer to the point that he almost shot the bodybuilder. A former roommate of Lockwood's labeled the victim a violent racist who, "always talked of wanting to beat or kill blacks."
In fact, Lockwood's car contained three clubs, two metal pipes and an ax handle.
Jurors in the Lockwood/Barlow case said the white man did not deserve to die.
"Maybe he had bad things in his past," said juror John Austian Louvau, "but he didn't have the weapons out of the car."
For people like Perry Ealim, the lesson is obvious: When a white man is killed by a black, there is hell to pay; when a black is killed by an Anglo, there are extenuating circumstances.
LAST WEEK suspended Smitty's manager Marvin Davis sat in the shelter of his lawyer's office reviewing the extenuating circumstances.
Quietly, sincerely, Davis told of starting out with Smitty's seventeen years ago as a bag boy right out of high school.
"All these years I've worked in the black community," said Davis. "I have black friends. For five years, I was a manager in South Phoenix. I used to bag Calvin Goode's groceries. Ada Hill, Kemper Marley's secretary, I used to take her birthday cakes."
Davis, who is married with two children, recalled his reaction upon learning of Rankins' death shortly after the fight.
"Someone said, `It didn't look good.' I started crying. I couldn't believe it. The woman who was with Rankins noticed I was upset. She came over and said, `Look man, it ain't your fault. He just did three lines of coke. He's crazy.'
"I thought, we got into this scuffle, maybe he got his heart going. The lady police officer tried to comfort me. I couldn't believe the guy died. I just couldn't believe it."
Marvin Davis will do very well in front of a jury. Until his recent suspension, he'd been a star at Smitty's. When the supermarket reorganized, it let twenty managers go. Davis was one of the four it kept.
At the end of the interview, Davis' skillful attorney countered the often expressed sentiment heard in the black community that bad checks aren't a killing offense: "Asking someone to leave is no death penalty offense either," said Jeremy Toles.
"I didn't go out there with the intent to stop him," concluded Davis. "I've never hurt an individual in my life. I don't have a temper. No arrests. I wasn't ready to die, that's all."
Again and again one version or another of this sympathic interview played out last week on Valley newscasts.
By contrast, in the ten months that Ronnie Barlow has been locked up for shooting Robert Lockwood, you'd be hard-pressed to remember a single story that explains who the 22-year-old black man is.
Kim: Please use these pullquotes with this sections.
When a white man is killed by a black, there is hell to pay; when a black is killed by an Anglo, there are extenuating circumstances.
"The woman who was with Rankins noticed I was upset. She came over and said, `Look man, it ain't your fault. He just did three lines of coke. He's crazy.'"
REVEREND OSCAR TILLMAN watched Marvin Davis on the broadcast news.
"Everything was as well orchestrated as an Oscar performance," the NAACP leader says. "We all can say that we're sorry once time has elapsed; letters from prison are full of that. You owe a debt to society, still."
Reverend Tillman has a question for Marvin Davis.
If the store manager recognized Ric Rankins as soon as the black man entered the store as the guy who'd been passing bad checks the preceding weekend, why didn't Davis simply call the cops?
As Perry Ealim noted, the Phoenix police responded in three to four minutes, and the store manager clearly spent more time than that tracking Rankins through the store, both on foot and with security cameras.
Ealim and Tillman make a good point.
Smitty's takes a very aggressive attitude toward shoplifters and other rip-offs. Store managers do not consider it unusual or dangerous to ask an unwanted customer to stay out of the store.
And while Reverend Tillman thinks that sort of attitude contributed to Rankins' death, he sees enough blame to believe the police must shoulder some responsibility in this tragedy.
Echoing the sentiments of Perry Ealim, Reverend Tillman said, "When a person is pronounced dead, it is time to hold some people. What if the people involved that you assumed to all be Smitty's employees were actually, one or two of them, bystanders who then disappeared?
Reverend Tillman estimates the police may have wasted more than ten minutes before calling the paramedics.
"You don't take people into custody who are unconscious. When you come upon someone who is unconscious, you administer CPR. You never move someone who is unconscious . . . I thought the police didn't do a professional job up-front."
Tillman is no mere carping minister. Before retiring he put 22 years into military law enforcement, the last thirteen as a police investigator in the Air Force.
His experience, since coming to Arizona from Washington in December, has been sobering: "We've had death threats over the phone; we've been given deadlines to drop this Rankins' case. The reactions have been very profane, very vulgar, very racist. Things I haven't heard since growing up in North Carolina."
Despite the threats, Reverend Tillman went forward with plans for the candlelight prayer vigil on the evening of July 18, held in conjunction with the Nation of Islam and community groups.
Timed to coincide with the burial of Rankins, the dignified ceremony was staged in the Smitty's parking lot where the homicide occurred.
Although more than 400 people were estimated to have marched, only a handful of whites participated. Impromptu fliers, quoting Abraham Kwok's cockeyed story, urged a boycott, but the crowd's color, in a city 97 percent white, emphasized the difficulty of any mass action.
One of those marching with a candle was Bennie Joe "Bossa Nova" Brown.
If Reverend Tillman is new to black men dying at white hands in Arizona, Brown is more seasoned.
On January 16, 1984, Brown burst in upon a city council meeting to announce that a black teenager, Standley Wesley, had been shot in the projects by a police officer.
Mayor Terry Goddard described it as the most dramatic moment he ever witnessed in the council chambers.
In the beginning, Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega went on television to calm viewers by assuring them that Wesley had been shot in the stomach, accidentally, while resisting arrest.
Shortly thereafter, New Times published photos showing the bullet wound in Wesley's back. The City of Phoenix eventually paid Wesley millions of dollars in settlement.
Last week, off the top of his head, Brown recited the poem he wrote six years ago to mark that shooting.
Standley Wesley is not dead but he does lay paralyzed
A police bullet hit him in the back and not between the eyes
Standley Wesley was jogging, is it against the law to run?
I guess it is in a black neighborhood, if Officer Patterson has got a gun
But Standley Wesley--Don't worry--
Shed not a tear
Because Bennie Joe Bossa Nova Brown and the Mighty Fonz West will march until justice is done.
"Yeah, Wesley got his millions," said Brown. "Not a thing for old Bennie Joe."
Brown used to sleep with relatives but these days he's on the street, homeless. He says he gets by on a disability check from a service injury, sustained July 26, 1987--a beating at the hands of a white marine that left him in a coma for several days.
He carries the papers to prove it in his sack next to the raggedy stuffed animals he's saving for a girlfriend or a niece, depending upon whom he sees first.
Jammed into the satchel with all his important papers was a new poem.
. . . Everything went okay for a while then something happened I can't understand. They say some brother wrote a bad check at Smitty's and they wound up killing the man.
Now a lot of people expressed bad feelings about the thing. They send cards expressing their pities. But if they really want their feelings felt, they would stop shopping at Smitty's.
Although the only recognizable community leaders at the march were Senator Carolyn Walker, Pastor Warren Stewart, and Gary Peter Klahr, Brown was pleased with the turnout.
"I thought the vigil was very well organized," said Brown. "And I was proud to see Christians joined together with the Nation of Islam. The Muslims can be self-centered, involved within themselves. I was proud to see them take a stand on the useless waste of a human life."
As Umar Sharif from the Nation of Islam and Reverend Oscar Tillman addressed the crowd at the vigil, Bennie Joe "Bossa Nova" Brown looked on.
It was like a scene from Spike Lee's movie, Do the Right Thing. In the film, idiot savant Smiley hawks photographs of Martin Luther King Jr. standing beside Malcolm X. As the credits roll up, Lee closes out the film with statements from both men reminding viewers that the Baptist minister's principles of nonviolence existed in a world that necessitated Muslim defiance. It is a volatile union.
Apparently the combination of Muslim and Christian is so arresting that the Arizona Republic thought it necessary to conclude its coverage of the candlelight vigil with: "The Nation of Islam is a radical sect of the Muslim religion led by Louis Farrakhan. It is exclusively black and claims that the white man is the devil."
In terms of shedding light upon a volatile race issue, that last paragraph is on a par with a Belfast daily explaining a papal visit to Northern Ireland by writing: "Catholics are a superstitious lot who ardently claim that when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she was a virgin."
Kim: please use these pullquotes with this section.
"I felt from the moment the police responded, everything went wrong."
"We've had death threats over the phone, been given deadlines to drop Rankins' case. The reactions have been very profane, vulgar, racist."
Frankly, this level of race baiting by the press begs the issue.
When blacks are homicide victims in Arizona, the survivors ought to demand answers. If you were black, in this state, would you trust the authorities?
Look at the recent history: The Phoenix chief of police went on television and misled the community about the shooting of Standley Wesley; in Miracle Valley when blacks were shot to death, the authorities lied again about the bullet holes, hiding the truth until Jesse Jackson produced photos of the corpses; last year it took five police agencies to pull a couple hundred fraternity boys off three black students whose only crime was the color of their skin. Then the cops handcuffed the blacks and took them to police headquarters and the Valley's press declined to portray this as a racial incident despite police reports that spelled out the truth.
So when Reverend Tillman saw a black man being followed out of Smitty's by a posse of employees he asked, "Did they pick him out because he was a black man in a white environment?"
As it turned out, Rankins called attention to himself on Sunday, July 8, two days before the incident, by trying to cash a check with questionable identification that did not include a driver's license.
Marvin Davis gave his okay on the Sunday check, but photocopied it. Instead of waiting a couple of days for the check to clear or bounce, Davis phoned the bank on Monday with the information on the photocopy.
Davis said he was told the account had not had any funds since April and that the bank regarded it as a runaway account.
Later that same day, Rankins returned and tried to pass another check. When it was rejected, he offered to pay for his merchandise with a credit card which also was kicked out of the machine as invalid.
When Rankins was spotted back in the store on Tuesday evening by Davis, the manager knew his customer was a wise guy.
The pursuit of Rankins wasn't a matter of race.
In fact, Smitty's is scheduled to defend itself in court in October against a lawsuit brought by Paul Aratico, a white man.
On November 6, 1987, Aratico was put in a choke hold by a security guard at Smitty's who strangled the victim to the point of unconsciousness.
Because some of Smitty's other employees are equal-opportunity brutes, that does not excuse Rankins' death.
How can there by any question of excessive violence? Of course the Smitty's employees used excessive violence. Managers swapped choke holds after the victim was tied; the police arrived to find the entire Smitty's crew sitting on top of a virtual corpse; this attitude was underscored by the Pinkerton guard who helped tie up Rankins and then asked the police if they intended to put hobbles (shackles) on the comatose victim.
Furthermore, a prosecutor looking for issues to put in front of a jury need search no further than the statements of other Smitty's employees who contradicted manager Davis about the sequence of violence. WHATEVER HOPE EXISTED for a dignified resolution of the homicide evaporated on Thursday, July 19, when County Attorney Richard Romley ducked the prosecution and when Smitty's executives decided to stonewall the black community.
Romley claimed his office had a conflict of interest because some of his employees moonlight for Smitty's. Romley's ploy was quickly pegged as a way of taking no action. His conflict of interest never prevented the county attorney from prosecuting the bad- check writers on behalf of Smitty's.
Confronted with a list of seven demands--including the establishment of a minority program for management trainees--Smitty's had been diplomatic, if firm, during the meeting.
The negotiators also asked Smitty's, as a demonstration of good faith, to absorb the family's cost of burying Rankins and to establish a scholarship fund for his six kids in California.
Both minority leaders left that meeting with the feeling that the groundwork for success had been laid. Within 24 hours, the world collapsed around them. On Friday, July 20, Attorney General Bob Corbin spotted the case as a political hot potato, so he, too, discovered that many of his staffers also moonlighted at Smitty's.
For a while, it appeared that the entire law enforcement and justice system spent its spare time sniffing around Smitty's aisles looking for shoplifters.
After being kicked in the teeth by the attorney general and the county attorney, black leaders were reeling. Late that afternoon, Smitty's dealt them a punishing shot.
The supermarket announced in a press release that its negotiations with the black leadership of the Nation of Islam and the NAACP were essentially concluded.
Smitty's said it would continue to review its security policies, but the other issues were essentially moot.
Smitty's vice president Weiskittel labeled the position as "final and conclusive."
At approximately 5 p.m. on Friday, an enraged Reverend Tillman phoned Smitty's and as one executive put it, "The minister was blowing his stack right through the fucking roof."
A week earlier, Smitty's appeared confused by the events washing in under its doors.
At one point, the befuddled grocer hired Republican political operative Bob Robb because he was doing the public relations for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday drive and, therefore, was conceivably wired in to the black community.
When Republican businessmen drove the holiday through the statehouse out of fear that Arizona would lose the Super Bowl if it did not have a King observance, GOP activist Robb suddenly found himself the recipient of a traditionally Democratic obligation. In reality, Bob Robb has about the same level of access into black Phoenix as Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson.
But if Smitty's had been a stumbling corporate oaf just a week earlier, by July 20, it was thumbing its nose at the NAACP, the Nation of Islam and the black community.
The lines were drawn.
On Saturday, Reverend Tillman, Umar Sharif and other black leaders huddled in the west-side apartment of Perry Ealim.
"We've had our finger in the dike holding off a boycott," said Sharif. "We've been saying Smitty's negotiated in good faith. Our position now is to take our finger out of the dike and let the community take its own action."
On Sunday night, hundreds of blacks met to plan direct action against Smitty's in Reverend George Brooks' church at 1923 East Broadway.
The activists were just a stone's throw from where Dirty T and Donna Marle Biscoe caught the taxi that would take them to the west-side Smitty's.
Kim: please use these pullquotes with this section. Thanks, cj
If you were black, in this state, would you trust the authorities?
How can there by any question of excessive violence?
It appeared that the entire law enforcement and justice system spent its spare time sniffing around Smitty's aisles looking for shoplifters.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.