Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Customer Not Murdered Over Chicken Sandwich

The man who had been cutting in a line for chicken sandwiches at a crowded Popeyes restaurant in Maryland recently was stabbed to death by another customer. That’s tragic. He did not deserve to die.

But he was not killed over chicken. He was killed after another man confronted him about his thuggish behavior, and their confrontation disintegrated after that.

He thought he was “bad.” He was “methodically” cutting in line for 15 minutes and he was getting away with it. Sadly, this victim learned too late, the inescapable truth about being a badass: there’s always, always, always someone “badder” than you.

I grew up among some of the rowdiest human beings you can imagine in South Central Los Angeles. “Too Sweet” and “Tiddy Bump” still come to mind. They were both bad, for no good reason.

Tiddy Bump, who wore a “conk” hairstyle in primary school, was functionally illiterate. We were both in Mrs. Graham’s sixth grade class. When he didn’t have anything better to do, he would lay in wait for me in South Park as I delivered newspapers to customers on my paper route, he would force me to transport him across the park on the back of my bicycle, then steal a newspaper, which he could not read.

He was a bad dude as far as I was concerned. He was probably not The Baddest of All Time. There were plenty of bad dudes all around L.A. You could easily enough encounter numerous families with three generations of badasses locked up in the L.A. County Jail at the same time.

We had Low Riders, and Crown 40s, and Slauson Village, and Businessmen, and Disciples, and Knickerson Gardens, and The Pueblos. They were all full of Bad Dudes. Then came Vietnam. Then came crack cocaine. Those plagues were even badder.

But this dude in Maryland didn’t need to die over a chicken sandwich. That’s true. But what made him think his rowdy time was more precious than the waiting time of all the people he was giving the bum’s rush by cutting in front of them? Then, why didn’t he just stand down when that perpetrator confronted him about his bad conduct?

The killer may have simply had a bad day. Maybe there was trouble on his job, in his family life. Maybe he was in no mood to be pushed around.

The sad part is that we tolerate and excuse rowdy, rude, lawless conduct among ourselves … until we get caught, that is, then we blame the “wicked injustice system.” (Law enforcement agencies, the courts, the jails truly are unjust to black people, but that’s a separate conversation.)

It’s alright with us if our children openly evade fares on public transportation. It’s OK with too many of us if our youth cut in line at a movie theater or at a chicken joint.

But that’s not acceptable. That’s not OK.

We must teach our children and ourselves that we ought to live to be the kind of people we want to be around. Bad is not good. Hurt people hurt people. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be good.

The idea that Black people in America — like we’d become our very own ISIS, or Boko Haram — would go to deadly war with ourselves over a chicken sandwich is as preposterous as a “Boondocks” animated cartoon episode from the late 1990s. Here we have it for real now: Life imitating art. Life lost over a chicken sandwich.

So here we go with another iteration of that uniquely homegrown tradition of us showing out at a chicken joint (metaphor for various kind of “juke” joints), be they Popeyes, or Church’s, or The Golden Bird, or Chicken ‘n’ Waffles, or Chick’n Lick’n, or Yardbird-o-roony, if it tastes like chicken, then it’s more than just diet for us.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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