COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A group of protesters are planning to gather outside of a Columbia business for the third day in a row, Friday, after a woman says she was assaulted and called a racial slur by the owner.
This all started Tuesday evening, when Shaterica Neal says after helping out at the polls for runoff elections that day, she decided to drive around and help feed people who may be homeless with some extra pizza that was left over. She tells WIS-TV that this is something she does regularly when in the downtown area.
After approaching a small group of people near the liquor store located at 2013 Harden Street, Neal says the owner of that store, Youssef Joe Al Ammouri, approached her and asked her to leave. She says, he called her a “donkey n-word,” as well as another expletive.
Neal says the two got into a verbal altercation, then the store owner swung at her and made contact with her hand. When another customer showed up, Neal says the two separated. Once she got home, Neal immediately turned to social media to share her experience.
The next day, a crowd gathered for what Neal is calling an economic protest. It was during that demonstration that Al Ammouri was arrested by Columbia Police, and also when Neal, a councilwoman in the town of Gray Court in the Upstate, says she met other people who claimed to have had similar experiences with this store owner.
“It’s only because I have councilwoman beside my name and that I’m a community activist that people are paying attention,” said Neal, adding that she believes she went through this for a reason.
“So, I’m using this opportunity to amplify the voices of the folks in this community who have been intimidated by hate by this owner for 20 years. He has been in this neighborhood for 20 plus years and so there are countless people coming and sharing their stories and I am going to amplify their voices to ensure that they are protected, to remove this man out of this community because community members do not feel safe with him being in this community and operating his business.”
In an interview with the Post and Courier, Al Ammouri denies using a racial slur but admits to calling Neal “donkey” and says she also insulted him. Al Ammouri also says he did grab for her phone, but says he did not make physical contact.
He’s since been charged with assault and hate intimidation, which just became an available charge in the city of Columbia last year.
Columbia City Council passed the Hate Intimidation ordinance in September of 2019. It means a person is trying to intimidate someone because of their race, gender or religion. This charge can only be filed in addition to another charge, such as assault.
Neal, who also considers herself a community activist says Al Ammouri’s arrest is not enough. She says people will continue to protest outside of his establishment until his liquor and business licenses are revoked.
“Any person who is openly racist and has a business and that is making money off of Black dollars, we will make certain that they lose their businesses and be removed from our communities,” said Neal.
Marc Brown is an attorney now representing Neal.
Brown says Al Ammouri, “used hate to try to intimidate Councilwoman Neal. There was no intimidation, he tried to intimidate her. We’re not backing down. People are tired and there’s no room for hate in Columbia. There’s no room for hate anywhere.”
Al Ammouri has since been released from jail.
Neal says the protests will continue every day until the store owner is no longer in business.
“We are not tolerant of white supremacy. We are not tolerant of racism. We are not tolerant of systemic racism,” said Neal.
A petition called for justice for Neal has been started online. Click or tap here to support her.