On Friday, December 8, at 10:12 a.m.,
Roland James Smith, Jr., 51, a Harlem resident with a criminal record
going back 30 years, walked into Freddy's Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned
clothing store at 272 West 125th Street, pulled out a gun, ordered all
the black customers to leave, spilled paint thinner on several bins of
clothing and set them on fire -- a fire that resulted in killing 8
people including Smith.
Roland James Smith Jr.
On December 8, 1995, Roland Smith, an
overzealous black activist, turned the white-owned Freddy's Fashion Mart
across the street from Harlem's famous Apollo Theatre into a flaming
grave for seven low-wage workers and himself.
Fueled by a bitter dispute
stemming from the clothing store's planned expansion that would result
in the eviction of the black-owned Record Shack next door Ron grew tired
of picketing and decided to take matters into his own hand.
fateful morning he entered Freddy's with a .38-caliber revolver and a
bag of lighter fluid, yelled for everyone to leave and started firing
wildly wounding four people who managed to stumble out of the shop.
Then he proceeded to set up barricades trapping seven
people inside. After exchanging gunfire with police the mad activist set
several fires in the store.
Ronnie, who liked to call himself Abubunde
Mulocko, feeling he had done his job for the cause, ended his morning
rampage by putting a bullet in his head. The seven others trapped in the
store burned to death. Police are still investigating the reasons for
8 Killed In Harlem -- Arson /
Gunman among dead
By John Kifner - SFGate.com
December 09, 1995
New York --
Eight people in a Harlem clothing store were killed yesterday in a
fierce blaze that police believe was deliberately set as part of bitter
landlord-tenant dispute that led to angry protests in the neighborhood.
Among the dead was a man police suspect set fire to
The fire consumed the building on Harlem's main
thoroughfare 125th Street shortly after a tall gunman waving a revolver
burst into Freddie's Fashion Mart across the street from the storied
Police said last night they believed the gunman was
one of a group of demonstrators who had picketed the store in recent
weeks in a dispute over the threatened eviction of a subtenant the
Record Shack a neighborhood institution.
Police say the gunman whom they did not identify was
found dead with a revolver in his hand reeking of accelerant a flammable
liquid. Beside him was a white container that officials believe held the
accelerant. Four other people were shot in the incident and escaped from
the store before the fire enveloped it.
According to officials and residents of the
neighborhood the fire followed a months-long dispute that involved the
owner of the building a black Baptist congregation called the United
House of Prayer; the owner of the clothing store Fred Harari; and
Sikhulu Shange owner of the neighboring Record Shack.
Shange a South African black whose shop has
specialized in blues Motown African and Caribbean music for more than 20
years was being evicted as a subtenant of Harari apparently at the
instigation of the church according to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
In the past several weeks there have been a dozen or
so pickets outside Freddie's urging a boycott of the store because they
believed it did not employ blacks and was behind the eviction of
The commander of the 28th Precinct Deputy Inspector
Joyce Stephen said the Police Department in addition to sending
uniformed officers to monitor the pickets had opened a racial bias
investigation of an incident that arose during the protesting November
Stephen said a security guard told the police that
one of the demonstrators had said "We're going to burn and loot the Jews."
Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton
rushed to the scene yesterday. The mayor while saying that the
investigation focused on the protests against the clothing store also
urged New Yorkers not to rush to judgments about the case.
At the same time the Rev. Al Sharpton who helped to
sponsor the protests against the clothing store criticized the
investigators for quickly linking the conflagration to the protests.
Because of the intensity of the fire it took more
than two hours before firefighters could reach the inside of the gutted
Besides the gunman they found three bodies huddled
together in a back room on the first floor and four more bodies
clustered together in the basement.
The police and Medical Examiner's office said seven
victims apparently died of smoke inhalation. But it was unclear whether
the gunman died of smoke inhalation or the single bullet wound he
In the early moments of the confrontation police say
the gunman fired on two police officers who arrived on the scene but
Bratton said a preliminary check of the weapons of the police officers
on the scene indicated that their guns had not been fired.
Of the four people wounded in the gunfire the police
said three of them were listed in critical condition.
Possibly false ID
The police said the gunman was carrying an
identification card with the name Aboudima Moulika and an address on
Mount Morris Park West. But they are not sure whether that is his true
identity. Detectives went to the address and said residents there had
never heard of him and did not recognize the person in the photograph.
"We're confident he was not known at that location"
said a detective involved in the investigation.
The day began like any other for the dozen or so
workers in Freddie's. There were construction crews working on a store
expansion and a $5 million renovation of the church.
Suddenly their ordinary world exploded into chaos and
confusion gunfire flames and death. A man walked into the store kicked
over a table sloshed the flammable liquid around shouted for people to
get out and then began shooting.
At 10:12 a.m. Bratton said a passer-by on 125th
Street told two officers from the 28th Precinct who were walking a
regular patrol beat that a tall man with a gun had gone into the store.
As they raced into the store the man was shooting.
Three wounded people were helped out of the store but one of the
officers was pinned down trapped inside. More police some from the
neighboring 25th Precinct responded to the call for backup and they got
the officer out unhurt the commissioner said.
At St. Luke's Hospital where the three badly wounded
victims all men were taken Dr. Kevin V. Sanborn the associate director
of anesthesiology said that one of them had said that "a man came into
the store and started the fire right away and as people tried to escape
the man started to fire at them."
Across the street Thomas Pierre a voter registration
worker glanced out his third-floor office window when he heard sirens
and shots and he saw police rushing up and man dressed like a
construction worker staggering out of the building in pain.
"Suddenly the whole front went up in
flames" Pierre said. "It started just like that."
Freddie's Fashion Mart
In 1995, a black Pentecostal Church, the United House
of Prayer, which owned a retail property on 125th Street, asked Fred
Harari, a Jewish tenant who operated Freddie's Fashion Mart, to evict
his longtime subtenant, a black-owned record store called The Record
Shack. Sharpton led a protest in Harlem against the planned eviction of
The Record Shack. Sharpton told the protesters, "We will not stand by
and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can
expand his business."
On December 8, 1995, Roland J. Smith Jr., one of the
protesters, entered Harari's store with a gun and flammable liquid, shot
several customers and set the store on fire. The gunman fatally shot
himself, and seven store employees died of smoke inhalation.
Fire Department officials discovered that the store's
sprinkler had been shut down, in violation of the local fire code. Al
Sharpton claimed that the perpetrator was an open critic of himself and
his nonviolent tactics. Sharpton later expressed regret for making the
racial remark, "white interloper," and denied responsibility for
inflaming or provoking the violence.