A $17 dispute Friday night at an Exxon gas station on Pittsburgh’s North Side that led to the assault of two sisters was captured on video and shared on social media.
The community reaction was swift.
By 6 a.m. angered residents had gathered outside the gas station, vowing to stay all day to discourage motorists from buying gas or store merchandise. Protesters succeeded in shuttering the store for the day. It’s unclear whether the station will reopen Sunday.
About three police cruisers were parked outside the station on the 2500 block of Brighton Road to ensure the safety of protesters, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Sgt. Tiffany Costa said.
The crowd ebbed and flowed all day.
By mid-afternoon, more than 100 people — including small children who chased each other through the crowd — had gathered around the fuel pumps.
“People are fed up,” said Amber Sloan, a community organizer who formed the grassroots group #MadeIt.
Police officials said Saturday that criminal charges have been filed against the gas station owner and an employee who were allegedly involved in the assault.
“The video showing the assault on these women is particularly disturbing as multiple men held down the women while punching them repeatedly,” police said in a news release Saturday.
Officers have reviewed multiple videos as part of the investigation, including the gas station’s security camera and a video taken by a bystander.
The bystander video shows a lengthy physical altercation in which the male store owners repeatedly struck one of the sisters in the back of the head and an employee grabbing the other sister by her hair and dragging her across the pavement.
The clash started over spilled gas, police and the sisters, who declined to give their names, said. The customers had demanded a refund, which the store owners denied. An argument ensued and quickly escalated.
Officials with ExxonMobil, which does not own and operate retail gas stations, said Saturday they were aware of the assault and protests.
“ExxonMobil does not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment by any company representative,” Jeremy Eikenberry, a company spokesman said in an email to the Tribune-Review.
“ExxonMobil’s global policies promote diversity and inclusion and prohibit any form of discrimination or harassment in any company workplace, anywhere around the world.”
Fred Powe was among those who spent his Saturday at the gas station.
“This is a cause that I think is worth it,” the Spring Garden resident said. “I’ve got sisters.”
Organizers provided water, food and music to gatherers. Throughout the afternoon, residents who were so moved grabbed the microphone to encourage the crowd to vote and to “Shut this place down.”
Among those who spoke was Tony Dawson, who lives in the neighborhood.
“That was disgusting, period,” Dawson told the Tribune-Review following his remarks. “You don’t hit a woman like that.”
Sharon McIntosh, who is a member of the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence, said the community’s next step will be to address cultural differences that could have exasperated the Friday night conflict.
“This is not the way we treat women of any race,” McIntosh said. “This can never happen again.”
As a result of the investigation, police determined that assault charges should be filed against the station’s owner and an employee. Authorities have not yet released any names.
Police said they will continue to investigate the incident and ask anyone who may have witnessed the incident to call Zone 1 detectives at (412) 323-7201.