You might have missed this one, for it wasn’t as widely reported as Trump’s rambling rants on Friday morning to a Fox News crew. And honestly, the first time I saw the headline this evening, I almost kept going, for it sounded like tabloid news. But then I checked the source and it was CNN. And I double checked to see if other sources were carrying the story, and sure enough, NPR, one of the most reliable, as well as a number of locals ran it. It reads exactly like something from the 1940s – 1950s.
Restaurant Manager Beat Black Employee for Years and Forced Him to Work Without Pay
John Christopher Smith began working at a family-owned restaurant, J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, when he was only 12-years-old. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up … to … slave. Smith has an IQ of about 70 and is considered to be ‘intellectually disabled’. Things seemed to go okay for Mr. Smith and he even liked his job … until 2009, when a man named Bobby Paul Edwards, the owner’s brother, took over as the restaurant’s manager.
Things changed for Mr. Smith once Edwards took over. First, he stopped paying Smith a salary, then he forced him to move into an apartment behind the restaurant, and insisted he work 17-hour days Monday through Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday. For all intents and purposes, John Christopher Smith was a slave and Bobby Paul Edwards the cruel overseer.
Edwards used both violence and threats to keep Mr. Smith ‘in line’. He was said to have beaten Smith with a belt, or with his fists, or with pots from the kitchen, when he believed Smith was working too slowly or doing something wrong. On at least one occasion Edwards dipped metal tongs into hot grease, then placed them on Mr. Smith’s neck. The court document states that the burn was treated immediately by other employees. Think about that one a minute. Edwards refused to let Smith speak to his family and threatened to have him thrown in jail if he tried. Remember that Smith’s IQ is only 70, so where you or I might realize the futility of such a threat, he likely did not. By Edwards’ own admission, other members of his family were aware of the abuse but said nothing.
Finally, in 2014, a local woman, Geneane Caines, heard from her daughter-in-law, an employee of the restaurant, about the treatment of Mr. Smith, and decided to go check things out herself. She immediately saw the scar on Smith’s neck, and coupled with what her daughter-in-law had told her, it was enough to convince her to make a report to the authorities.
According to Ms. Caines …
“Customers that were going in there would hear stuff and they didn’t know what was going on, and they would ask the waitresses, and the waitresses were so scared of Bobby. they wouldn’t tell them then what it was.”
Ms. Caines first took her concerns to the NAACP, who brought it to the attention of the authorities. Initially, Edwards was charged only with one charge of misdemeanor assault. One charge??? Misdemeanor??? You have got to be kidding me!!! But then Abdullah Mustafa, the president of the local NAACP, pushed for greater punishment, including federal involvement. “It should be more than just assault … we are talking about enslavement here.” After investigation by the FBI in conjunction with assistance from the Department of Labour’s Wage and Hour Division, the misdemeanor charge was dropped and Edwards was charged with one count of forced labour. He faces up to 20 years in prison, a maximum $250,000 fine, and restitution to Mr. Smith to be determined at the time of sentencing.
On October 10, 2014, police and NAACP officials removed Smith from the restaurant to an ‘undisclosed location’ for his safety, and the first charges were filed against Edwards just over a month later. The restaurant owner, Edward’s brother Ernest Edwards, claims to have been unaware of the abuse, as he spends most of his time vacationing in Myrtle Beach. Nonetheless, charges have also been filed against both the restaurant and its owner.
I have some questions about this:
- It was 2014 that Ms. Caines reported the situation, first to the NAACP. Why the Sam Heck did it take four years … four years … for this case come up for sentencing?
If Bobby Paul Edwards is willing to plead ‘guilty’ to these heinous crimes, what else is there? The charges are said to be a result of a plea deal, so … is there something even more despicable he has done that he is willing to plead guilty to forced labour and hope for a light sentence?
Those customers who asked questions about what was happening? Why didn’t they at least report their suspicions?
Why didn’t other employees, who surely must have realized something was not right, report the situation. Perhaps they were afraid of losing their job, but come on, people … it is J&J Cafeteria, not Maxim’s!!!
Smith had family in the area … they even came into the restaurant from time to time, but were not allowed to see John C. Smith. Did they not think something was off? FIVE YEARS this went on! Surely somebody must have thought something was not right!
What would you do if you worked in a restaurant and saw a fellow employee, black or white, being physically abused by a member of management? It’s not hard to answer that, is it? So why did the other employees of J&J Cafeteria allow this abuse to continue non-stop for 5 bloomin’ years??? I really cannot imagine being so afraid of losing my job that I would see a person treated as Mr. Smith was treated.
Ask yourself the question … would it have been different if Mr. Smith had white skin? Think about it.