After nearly two months of debate, an Ensley gas station where three homicides have taken place will remain open, the Birmingham City Council decided Tuesday.
Antonio Jerrell Taylor was fatally shot at the Shell at 800 Third Ave. W. on June 10. Taylor was the third person to be killed there since 2015, leading the council to consider revoking its business license. After owner Mohamad Nasher’s attorney presented a safety plan that included extra “no loitering signs,” additional security from off-duty police officers, and an increase in cameras and lighting, the council’s public safety committee elected to keep the business under probation for a year.
But District 8 City Councilor Steven Hoyt, arguing that the decision violated protocol because it did not allow for a public hearing in front of the full council, protested the decision by rejecting the consent agenda of subsequent meetings, slowing proceedings to a crawl.
“We need to have that discussion here,” he said during the council’s July 24 meeting. “The council makes the final decision, not the committee … . You all are saying it’s OK for folks to get killed.”
Hoyt’s protests succeeded, and the public hearing took place during Sept. 11’s council meeting. Several residents spoke in favor of keeping the gas station open, to the point of arguing with Hoyt over the cleanliness of its restrooms.
“If it’s closed it will just be a vacant building,” said resident Angela Lomax. “(Nasher)’s trying to fight to keep crime away. I’ve seen the owner come outside and ask someone to stop selling drugs when I was there. He could’ve lost his life too. We’re supposed to be a community and want to keep businesses open. What business is going to come along when y’all close it down?”
Cedric Datcher, a preacher who says he regularly “evangelizes” at the gas station, argued that the city should treat it the same way it treated several nightclubs where violence had occurred that the council allowed to remain open. “Treat one the way you treat them all,” he said.“There was even some fighting at City Hall one time, and City Hall’s still open.”
Antonio Taylor’s mother, Patricia, and several other family members expressed skepticism that the station had “cleaned up its act,” but they also expressed indifference toward the council’s decision.
“I don’t care what happens to the Shell,” said Minnie Anderson, Taylor’s aunt. “I know what happened to my nephew… . Have your business.”
Eventually, Hoyt led the motion to keep the Shell open, as long as it met the criteria established by the safety plan. But first, he addressed Taylor’s family. “I wanted you to be heard,” he said. “You deserve that. That’s why I pushed for this public hearing, so people can hear from you.”