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“Don’t kill him, it’s just a beer”: the murder of an African-American teenager who shocked the United States

Several people participate in the 31st annual march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr
Several people participate in the 31st annual march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, United States. EFE
  • Dorian Harris, a 17-year-old African-American boy, was shot dead by a store clerk in Memphis after having a two-dollar beer.
  • Anwar Ghazali has just been convicted of the homicide, which caused protests and aggravated racial tensions in the southern city, which at the time of the event commemorated 50 years of the murder of activist Martin Luther King.

On March 30, 2018, Dorian Harris, 17, entered the store The Top Stop Shop in  Memphis, from which he left moments later with a beer in his hand, which was carried without paying openly, passing in front of the clerk. Immediately  Anwar  Ghazali came out from behind the counter with a gun in his hand and chased the young African-American, to whom he shot three shots in the street. Then it was placed back in the box to charge the next buyer. Harris’s body was found two days later by a neighbor who followed the trail of his blood. Neither the clerk nor the clients reported the incident to the police.

The murder shocked this city in the southern United States – which in those days commemorated 50 years of another murder, that of activist Martin Luther King – and multiplied the historic racial tensions in the state of Tennessee. A year and a half later,  Ghazali has been convicted of manslaughter this Thursday. The sentence, which will be issued next month, can mean up to 60 years in prison.

“Don’t kill him. Don’t kill him. It’s just a beer,” shouted Beverly Lovers on, one of the people who were in the store when the crime occurred, and whose testimony was heard this Thursday at the trial. Lovers on also assured the judge that he regretted not having denounced what happened.

“They just left him there to die and I believe, with all my heart, that if they had called the police and made known that they had shot someone, my grandson would be alive today,” said Harris’s grandmother, Effie Fitch,  in statements to the newspaper The Commercial Appeal.

In the days and months after Harris’s death, dozens of protesters protested in front of the store and organized a boycott of the business. In addition, relatives and friends of Harris mounted a candlelight vigil on the street where he died. The controversy caught the attention of Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Berenice A. King, who was in Memphis to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his father’s murder. On Twitter, the activist wrote: “If we do not value African-American lives and believe that Dorian’s life is worth less than an allegedly stolen beer, then we are not honoring my father with authenticity.”

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