Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: In a South Florida inner city, peril impinges on a store clerk’s day

City of Miami Police responded to this year's first homicide, after an unidentified male was fatally shot several times in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, Florida on Sunday, January 4, 2015.
City of Miami Police responded to this year's first homicide, after an unidentified male was fatally shot several times in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, Florida on Sunday, January 4, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The customers — most of them — are fine. Sure, some seem a little woozy on something, but they come into the corner market to buy Cokes, beer, cigarettes and fresh-made sandwiches, and to banter with Ahmed Najjar like an old friend.

They aren’t the reason Ahmed packs a .40-caliber Beretta pistol. “Oh, I’ve got other guns, too,” he noted.

It’s the gangbangers and the wannabe gangsters who make this job in this neighborhood as dangerous as any vocation in Florida. Najjar worries about young thugs around here who have such fearsome weaponry, such callous hearts: “Got nothing in their lives. They’re too young to be scared. Too young to think about consequences.”

Ahmed Najjar runs Friendly Meat Market in the crime-ridden heart of Liberty City, where, he told me, gunfire has become common to the everyday soundscape. “Driving down 62nd Street to work yesterday morning, I heard six shots.”

Like so many of the shopkeepers in South Florida’s toughest urban neighborhoods, Najjar is of Palestinian descent. These businesses support Palestinian immigrants and their families, but this version of the American dream comes fraught with danger. Earlier this month, Florida’s Palestinian community was given a jolting reminder of the risk when a robber murdered two brothers, 25 and 17, at their family’s store in Palmetto.

In January, Zaid Kabar, 53, an immigrant from Gaza, was gunned down outside the Strawberry Food Market, a bright misnomer for the drab Miami Gardens convenience store where he worked. Some 16-year-old gunslinger admitted to killing Kabar but, according to Channel 10, he told police he was too high on the party drug Molly to remember much about the night he gunned down the father of eight children.

“It can be scary,” admitted Mik Anmad, 38, who was manning the counter at Strawberry this week. “But what other job can I get?”

He shrugged, “When I make it home, I pray.”

Nick Bader, 51, who runs a Palestinian-owned market in Liberty City with the improbable name Brother In The Hood #1, said he simply consigns his fate to God when he comes to work. To God and an armed guard who works from 2 p.m. until midnight.

At the Friendly Meat Market, Ahmed Najjar works behind inch-thick glass partitions. “Bullet resistant,” he said, with a smile. “But not bulletproof.” Still, there are robberies and attempted robberies — guys who skulk around, pretending to shop, making nervous sidelong glances at the security cameras before pulling out their pistols.

Last winter, three robbers caught Ahmed and his brother off guard. One held a gun to his brother’s head. They made off with more than $1,000, but not before an exchange of gunfire that left two of the robbers wounded.

What makes the shootout story so extraordinary is that it’s coming from such an unlikely guy like Ahmed — a smart, affable, easy-going father of three young children. “When I leave in the morning, I look at my kids and hope I get to see them again.”

What makes the shootout story so extraordinary is that it’s coming from such an unlikely guy like Ahmed — a smart, affable, easy-going father of three young children. “When I leave in the morning, I look at my kids and hope I get to see them again.”

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