By Mark David Blum, Esq.
I had a friend with me yesterday as I did presentation at a local high school. This friend and client, a man of 28 years and who looks even older than that, joined me and sat bored as I tormented a high school class about libertarianism and constitutional law. It is an annual trek and a lot of fun. Yesterday’s presentation was not that extraordinary and bottom line is the point that is made. ITS YOUR CONSTITUTION AND YOUR LIFE. CHOOSE LIFE AND LIBERTY.
After ninety minutes of wandering about the empty catacombs of minds far away from the subject before them, I drove out of the campus feeling only half satisfied, Much of what I wanted to speak about I couldn’t get to because of time, so I stayed focused until done, did the small talk thing, and the two of us left for greener pastures.
It took but a moment after leaving the school property (of course) to realize that neither of us had any cigarettes. A stop in the journey was now mandatory. We smokers gotta have our butts. It was too bad the entire combined two classes I had just spoken to did not join me. They could have witnessed first hand the racist and classism and all around offensive behavior of white people in Syracuse and how it can destroy a mood and an entire mindset of a human being.
Here are the plain facts: I walked into the Sunoco gas station on Brighton and Seneca Turnpike to buy a pack of cigarettes. Being the gracious host I am, I offered to buy a couple packs for my friend. When told he smoked a brand of Newports, I went inside and bought four packs of cigarettes; two for me and two Newports for my buddy.
Of course as it is with most smokers, you can never buy them the exact brand they want. Like alcohol drinkers and certain drug users, cigarette smokers will smoke any cigarette but are very picky when buying them. There is not so much brand loyalty as it is about when given a choice, a smoker always wants a specific brand and type.
As most buddies are prone to be, mine too was not satisfied, so I said, “here is the receipt. Go exchange what I got you for what you want.” Off he went while I sat and watched.
The “you want fries with that” employees working the Sunoco were refusing to exchange the cigarettes. They were demanding a photo identification from my friend just to exchange the packs. No such demand was made of me. I was never asked for proof of age or any identification when I first bought them. Now they are demanding different IDs and refusing to make the exchange.
“It’s the law” say they. Flashing my “hello I am a lawyer” official identification, I am still told the law prohibits them from exchanging the cigarettes unless my buddy has a photo ID. Reminding them I bought all the butts and wanted to exchange two of them, I was told that, “nope, can’t because I sent him to make the exchange.” Without ID, they wouldn’t make the exchange for me neither.
I know Sunoco employees did not card my friend because of a policy of carding all smokers because nobody asked me for photo and age identification. So we know its not that ID. Sunoco employees couldn’t have been nicer to me as I was buying butts (including telling me they were less expensive across the street at the other gas station) but their attitudes turned 180 degrees when a Black man walked into their store. Suddenly it was all about identification and being rude. Doing the only right thing, I returned the other two packs and demanded a refund for all four packs of cigarettes. I got jerked off in the process and somehow I feel Sunoco employees have tampered with my credit card. Monday will settle all of that.
Suffice it to say I drove across the street and did all my business there without any grief or aggravation.
My only conclusion is that the Sunoco franchise on Brighton and Seneca Turnpike refuses to treat its Black customers with the same respect and honor as they do their White customers. Not other feature distinguished me from my friend.
Certainly there is no law on the books that says you cannot exchange or sell cigarettes to someone without a photo identification. When Sunoco kept hollering “it’s the law”, I kept asking “which law”. Of course no specifics were forthcoming. We know its not an age check thing, because my age was never checked. Heck, they never checked to see if I signed the credit card I used or was even the namesake thereof. My friend had to endure a complete public rectal exam and still that was not good enough.
So from all of that I draw a conclusion. I know Sunoco wont like it but that is their issue. Many readers here may think “no way Mark did things go as you said” and take offense to my position. But, since the events unfolded exactly as reported, I am left with but one conclusion: Namely, that the franchise owners and indeed the entire corporation as a whole likely has a policy that targets Blacks and other minorities for less than equal treatment and service.
Too bad the crazies at the Syracuse Peace Council wont risk arrest over protesting at this particular Sunoco. Someone needs to close their doors and remind them as Americans that unless you live in Gretna, LA, you are not exempt from treating all citizens and visitors alike. Right now, Sunoco’s racist policy cost them me as a customer. Hopefully this will snowball and eventually a more enlightened contributor to society will emerge. Until then, “may their gas tanks be empty and their cash registers fail”. Mostly, either they will change or their doors will close and I pray Syracuse residents do all they can to close down that Sunoco by refusing to do business.
Companies like the Sunoco are a blight and a cancer upon our community. It is up to us to fight that good fight and either enlighten them or close them down. I did my best on the former yesterday. Maybe I just need to wear my lawyer hat when I say there is a corporate policy of targeting young Black males for specific and disparate treatment. Curiosity burns in me seeking their response to a civil rights lawsuit. Then they can tell me “it’s the law” to ID check Black men only and I can show them how the law deals with idiots like the Sunoco workers and their employers. (Hint: the statute of limitations is long and precious). Sleep well, my babies cuz you never know when the knock-knock of a process server will happen.