The thugs haven't listened, though. As of the Pitch's press time, 121 people have been killed in the city this year.
But Hunt and Washington are nothing if not persistent. Washington, after all, gets credit for solving the Precious Doe case by keeping her memory alive over the four years it took for police to arrest her killer. More recently, after the Pitch ran a story about the anti-snitching phenomenon in the black community a trend so prevalent that some kids were wearing "Stop Snitching" T-shirts (Nadia Pflaum's "Speak No Evil," September 29) Washington made his own "Start Snitching" T-shirts, begging crime witnesses to come forward. But apparently Washington isn't as good a fashion designer as he is a comic-book artist. (In 2002, Washington won a $6,000 award from the Charlotte Street Fund for his Omega-7 comics, which are populated by black superheroes, including Omega Man and Original Woman).
Enter the Snowman.
Washington tells this meat patty that around Thanksgiving, he started getting calls from parents who were outraged about the new T-shirts popularized by Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy. The shirts were selling fast at Pener's Man of Fashion and other metro clothing stores that cater to young black men. And the eager customers weren't little kids clamoring for some innocent if grumpy-looking cartoon. As Young Jeezy raps in his songs, the Snowman is a cocaine dealer, and the T-shirts read, "I got that snow ... man."
Washington and Hunt quickly realized that the Snowman could be icing on their latest cause. At hip-hop stores around town, they discovered other insidious shirts, such as one showing a mock Kellogg's cereal box with Tony the Tiger standing over bricks of powder cocaine and a mountain of cash. The shirt read, "Frosted Cakes of Caine The work is GR-R-R-REAT!"
Washington left a message for David Pener, who co-owns the four-store Pener's chain with his brother, Barry. Pener's has been a Kansas City institution since 1903, and although the majority of its customers are smartly dressed African-Americans, David and Barry Pener are white (more on that later). Washington wanted to know how such merchandise could be allowed on the racks. Pener soon called him back, apologized and pulled the shirts, Washington says.
And, at the request of the Black Agenda Group, which meets weekly to discuss problems in the community, Barry Pener signed quarter-page advertisements apologizing for the shirts in The Call and The Globe newspapers.
"The shirts came in by accident," Pener tells the Strip. He says his store has a responsibility to protect the community it serves from messages that are in poor taste or that glamorize drug use. "It slipped through the crack," he says. (The Strip, who's never had anything against inadvertent bad puns, will just let that one slide.)
But Hunt doesn't want to let the Pener family off with just an apology. He wants Pener's to give its employees time off with pay on Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday, donate up to $300 worth of shoes to kids who are in before- and after-school programs at the Caring Community Link, and advertise regularly with The Globe, The Missouri Post and The Call.
Hunt agreed with this skeptical sirloin that there were plenty more important things to fight about than some stupid T-shirt trend. But, he griped, too many entrepreneurs just want to make a buck off black people, even if it hurts the community.
"He [David Pener] wouldn't take it to the synagogue and set up a booth and sell that. So why would you sell it in our community?
"They see our community as a big, giant breast for every immigrant to come in and suck our economic strength," Hunt continued. "I ain't talking about white people. I'm talking about every ethnic group that has come and set up shop.... Pener's got full off the breast, then the Arabs said, 'Save me some milk,' then they sucked on our economic strength. Then the Italians, they got liquor stores on every corner. They came in, Italians selling guns, the pasta ... building their own strength and not giving out one dime back to the community. So they're bloodsuckers. I call them all bloodsuckers of the poor. I know that's kind of radical, but that's straight-out true."
Pener's is just the first target. "Pener's know better. They've been in our community longer, so they get hit the hardest. Then we're going to have the snowball effect."
Yeah. The snowball effect. Courtesy of the snowman.
Pener says he'll pray for Hunt, whom he says should have asked around a little more before attacking the Pener family for not giving back to the community. Pener says he's not bragging, but his business donated more than $10,000 to a summer camp for the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church last summer. (The 300 children who attended were all inner city kids and all black.) He says he's given thousands more to other causes, including an educational program in Kansas City, Kansas, to motivate kids to excel in class, and hundreds of pairs of athletic shoes to victims of Hurricane Katrina. And he's giving 100 food baskets to inner city churches this holiday season. And Pener's Man of Fashion is a member of the NAACP.
"We enjoy giving .... We're not without a conscience over here," Pener says.
He says his phone line is open if Hunt wants to call and talk about the real issues plaguing the inner city.
Washington, meanwhile, says he wants to "Melt the Snowman." That's the slogan for a new crime-fightin' shirt he wants to deploy in the 'hood. And, he notes, David Pener is interested in seeing the design.