A Harlem bodega owner, Jose Alba, 61, was arrested and charged with murder after he was attacked in his store and retaliated by stabbing his attacker to death. The community and store owners rallied behind him, demanding for Alba to be freed under “self defense” reasoning. Today, July 19, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office filed a motion to dismiss the charges.

“Jose Alba’s case did not go unnoticed,” said U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat in a statement. “I heard from many of my constituents regarding the tragedy that took place earlier this month, and it remains critical that we do all that it takes to address crime and violence that has become a near daily occurrence in my district.”  

The incident occurred on July 1 at the Blue Moon Convenience store on Broadway and 139th Street in West Harlem. Austin Simon, 37, and his girlfriend got into an altercation with Alba on the store’s security footage. Simon then walks behind the counter and attacks Alba. The girlfriend allegedly stabbed Alba as well. Alba then stabbed Simon five times, acting in self-defense he’s said.  

The DA’s office initially charged Alba with second-degree murder and took him to Riker’s Island. After negotiating, his bail was reduced to $5,000. The district attorney’s press office said that the case has been advanced to Tuesday, July 19, and that Alba, who was released on a lowered bail, would not appear in court. 

“Following an investigation, the People have determined that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified in his use of deadly physical force,” reads the motion to dismiss all charges against Alba. 

Many deli and bodega owners in the city are largely from Hispanic, Latino, Muslim, and immigrant backgrounds. They complained at a rally for Alba that violence is a plague against small business owners that literally support the community and aren’t protected.

Dr. Debbie Almontaser, who heads the Yemeni American Merchants Association, said that they proudly stood with the Dominican community at a rally for Alba. Almontaser said they have asked the state for funding to provide bodega owners with state-of-the-art video recording equipment with sound capabilities. She said she is hopeful that more community policing and a better police response to store owners’ calls would restore safety and cut down on crime. 

Almontaser said at the rally that bodega owners were frontline workers during the pandemic, often providing foods and goods when larger places shuttered. “Today all of these lifeline businesses are feeling a sense of betrayal, a sense of not belonging in those communities because of the rise in crime,” said Almontaser.

Almontaser, the Yemeni American Merchants Association, and its members were “extremely happy” to learn that the charges against Alba are being dropped.

Maria Ortiz, a spokesperson for United Bodegas of America, said that the organization is ecstatic that charges are being dropped against Alba. Ortiz said that they discussed the “evident” case of self-defense with Bragg last week.

“All of the store owners are afraid. This is something that’s been happening forever,” continued Ortiz. “This one made the news because someone died, but store owners have been attacked, spit on, slapped, stabbed, you name it. They’ve lived through every experience where these criminals come into their stores, steal their products, eat it or drink it in their face and then come back for more.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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