More than 600 people marched Thursday through downtown Macon, calling for peace and safety in Middle Georgia convenience stores where three people have been shot dead in recent months.
Hundreds of Indians from Middle Georgia, and many from farther away, marched three abreast to a rally outside City Hall. They were joined by several people of other nationalities and met by the mayor, chief of police and other local officials who promised to bring the killers to justice and make area convenience stores safer.
After the march, many attended the funeral for Jaymal Patel, one of three Patels killed in a recent spate of violence at convenience stores in Macon, Bibb County and Milledgeville. Arrests have been made in the Macon and Bibb crimes, while the Milledgeville killing remains unsolved.
“Lord, look down upon our community, help us to realize that we are one single band of destiny,” local pastor Ernest Gordon prayed into a microphone after marchers assembled at City Hall. “That we ought to be our brother’s keeper.”
During the march, the mostly quiet crowd stretched from Hart’s Mortuary on Cherry Street to St. Joseph Catholic Church on New Street. Most wore white shirts, and many wore black ribbons in memory of Jaymal Patel, Dipak “Danny” Patel and Dilipbhai “Danny” Patel.
Jaymal and Dipak Patel were killed in Bibb County, Dilipbhai Patel was killed in Milledgeville.
“We’re all mostly Patels,” Ashish “Andy” Patel said of the crowd. “And we’re all from one place, (a state) like Georgia. Gujarat (in India). Mahatma Gandhi was from Gujarat.”
Marchers held signs calling for peace and announcing the counties they came from. Bibb, Houston, Peach, Monroe, Baldwin, Macon, Pulaski, Crisp, Henry, Coffee, Tift and Lee counties were all represented.
“We want justice, really,” said Ray Patel, a Fitzgerald man who, like many, closed his store to be in Macon on Thursday. “This get-together, to me, is to support our family.”
The day was marred a bit because someone broke a plate glass window at the Riverside Drive Chevron where Dipak “Danny” Patel was killed late last month. The store, like many Indian-run stores across Georgia, was closed Thursday for the march.
Security camera footage shows that the window was broken Wednesday night, about 10:50 p.m., Macon police spokeswoman Sgt. Melanie Hofmann said. Police don’t know why someone broke the window, Hofmann said. But the bars behind the window are obvious, and nothing was stolen.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Raj Patel, who runs the store. “A lot of people have sympathy, but somebody ... they don’t like the peace in town.”
Lou Patel, president of the recently formed Middle Georgia Asian American Business Community Association, said the vandalism was discussed Thursday evening during a meeting with police officials. He said the window breaking doesn’t appear to be related to Dipak Patel’s killing.
He also said a police training session for store employees has been set up for Sept. 22. They’re going to talk about the proper installation and use of security cameras, among other things. Lou Patel said he hopes owners also will take advertisements down from glass windows to increase visibility. He also said the association plans other training sessions.
“Self-defense classes, gun training, whatever we have to do to keep this community safe,” Lou Patel said.
Kushal Patel said that’s the only thing that will make a difference.
“Start fighting back,” he said. “That’s the only way.”
Mayor Robert Reichert said he was impressed by the large turnout and the dignity of Thursday’s crowd.
“They came here as a community to say this is pitiful,” he said. “And it is. It’s just pitiful. We have, and this is a quote from (local pastor) Ronald Terry, we have raised a generation of young people that is lawless, godless and fearless, and it’s the combination that’s proven so lethal.”
Telegraph staff writer Mike Stucka contributed to this report.