NEW YORK -- Jang Bong Jae and his family still show up for work just as most children are trudging off to school each morning. They clean the empty stalls and sweep floors that have not been dirty for months. Then they open the doors and wait for somebody to come and shop.
The family has been waiting for eight months. But each day, instead of greeting customers, they confront angry black protesters chanting through bullhorns, calling them imperialist bloodsuckers and telling them that a boycott of the store will never end.
Many people are starting to believe it. For the first time in the eight-month siege of the Family Red Apple Grocery Store, protesters were forced by court order yesterday to stand at least 50 feet from the doors. But it did not seem to matter. Three dozen police showed up, with lawyers, mediators and special vans to take anyone arrested to jail. But few came to boycott, and nobody came to shop.
"They will be closed down," said Warren Kellom, a cook who lives nearby in the Flatbush neighborhood. "This is not about race. It is about respect. They are taking our money out of the community and treating us like animals."
The facts in the incident that led to the boycott have long since receded into the background. Black protesters contend that three Korean shopkeepers beat a Haitian woman Jan. 18. Jang's family said she tried to leave the store without paying for all of her groceries and was slightly injured when she was stopped.
There have been inquiries and reports, arrests and apologies. But nothing has drowned out the din of hatred that has spread through the community for months.
"It's so sad," said Elona Greene, a community resident. "It should have stopped months ago. To think this goes on every day with such bitterness and nobody can do anything about it."
Whatever the initial truth, the case has evolved into one of the most visible scars of a racially torn city. Mayor David N. Dinkins (D), elected at least in part because he projected the image of a kindly conciliator, has failed in all attempts to resolve the dispute. On Monday, when he addressed more than 6,000 Asian Americans at City Hall, he was greeted with a long chorus of catcalls.
Dinkins himself has been under attack lately for not taking a firmer grip at the helm of this unwieldy city. This week, he lashed at critics in a radio broadcast designed to prove that he was a forceful manager who is angered by injustice. But few here think that he can ease this problem soon.
Even in New York, one must look hard to find a more ethnically mixed area than the stretch of Church Avenue where Jang's grocery is located. Chun's Expert Tailor is down the street, as are Home Boys Discount, the Izzy Zerling Youth Recreation Center and the Hong Kong Carryout. The avenue sings with Creole and Spanish, Korean and Cantonese.
But it is Jang's store that has been the center of attention for months. Its bright pine shopping carts advertise specials on yams and oranges. But the shelves are empty under the hand-lettered sign saying, "This is America. Shop where you please without looking at the color of a person's skin."
The family has not bought fresh produce for months because it would spoil. Instead, there is a full supply of a nerve and blood tonic, various types of antiseptic and many pounds of dried beans. Alone among all stores on the block, its broad sign is empty, painted over for fear of attracting attention.
"We have been supported by the Korean grocers and by the American people," Jang said yesterday. Contributions dribble in, enough to sustain the family and pay the rent.
But with or without police, court orders and Dinkins, the protest has taken on a strong life of its own. It is, as Ali Abdullah said wistfully yesterday, really a protest against American society.
"There might have been an incident, and maybe they were wrong," said Abdullah, a resident standing in front of the store and surrounded by police ready to push him away if he started to mouth slogans or chant. "But this is an example, a way of raising the consciousness of the community. African Americans are the only people with no control over their economic destiny. And the Koreans just basically remind us of that all the time."