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Published: Saturday, 1/20/2007

Mother of murder victim outraged by shirt she says promotes violence

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For $8, Pat Rizzi bought a T-shirt that she says screams domestic violence.

The first panel on the Attitude Tees-brand garment, dubbed Problem, appears to show a stick-figure girl animatedly expressing her unhappiness with an equally unhappy stick-figure boy.

The next panel, called Solved, shows a smiling boy pushing the girl through the panel and the girl falling head-first down the side of the shirt.

Mrs. Rizzi whose daughter Michelle Rizzi Salerno was found slain nearly seven years ago plans to take the shirt to a protest tomorrow in West Toledo in which she and others hope to have the T-shirts forever pulled from the shelves of Kmart stores across the country.

Meijer stores have pulled the shirts as a result of similar complaints.

My daughter was murdered as a result of domestic violence, Mrs. Rizzi said.

I think [the shirts] have no place in a department store, especially selling them to children. We have anti-bullying programs in school. We re trying to educate people about domestic violence to end it and this shirt just promotes it.

The Toledo chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Take Back the Night Collective agree, citing last weekend s attempted murder of a Sylvania Township woman by her estranged Perrysburg boyfriend, who later died of a self-inflicted gunshot.

In addition, 10 of Toledo s 35 murder victims last year died in domestic violence-related incidents, police records show. Most of the victims were women and children, the groups noted.

Toledo NOW and Take Back the Night Collective have organized a 1 p.m. protest tomorrow at the Kmart store at Jackman and Alexis roads. They intend to deliver a letter to the store manager that is addressed to the corporation s chief executive officer asking that the T-shirts be yanked. The T-shirts have produced similar controversy in other parts of the country.

There has not been enough commotion. We want these shirts pulled. We want a national recall, said Danielle Davis, a local NOW activist. We want the proceeds used for domestic violence prevention and shelters. They shouldn t be profiting from this.

Kmart would never condone, support, or promote domestic violence, said Kim Freely, spokesman for Sears Holding Co., the parent firm of Kmart and Sears stores.

The characters on the shirt are stick figures that represent a brother and sister. We respect the opinion of our customers. However, we believe the Attitude Tees, by their very nature, are meant to be seen as light-hearted, Ms. Freely said.

She said Kmart does not have many of the controversial T-shirts left in its inventories and that it is unlikely that the model will be reordered.

Sue Dewey, who identified herself as a manager at the Kmart on Navarre Avenue in Oregon, said she had never heard of the T-shirts and hadn t received any complaints about them.

Ms. Dewey said she went into her store to look for the shirts and couldn t find them.

A manager at the Kmart store on Carronade Drive in Perrysburg also said yesterday he was not familiar with the shirts. He declined to provide his full name and referred all questions to the corporate office.

But Mrs. Rizzi said she bought the Problem Solved T-shirt at the Perrysburg store Thursday night. She said she counted 15 of the shirts folded on a shelf in the boys department.

Meijer, which is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., immediately pulled the shirts from all of its stores after receiving a complaint from a customer, spokesman Stacie Behler said.

We have initiated a more robust review process of the content that appears on our clothing to make sure it is consistent with our core values on familyness, Ms. Behler said.

As soon as it was brought to our attention, we pulled the product because it is so inconsistent with our core values that it should never have shown up on the floor in the first place, she said.

Mrs. Rizzi said she was the customer who complained to Meijer and was pleased when company representatives twice called her to apologize about the shirts being on the shelves.

Mrs. Rizzi said she first noticed the Problem Solved T-shirts at the Kmart store on Reynolds Road in Toledo before Christmas. She explained to the manager why they were offensive and told him about her daughter s death.

Michelle Rizzi Salerno was killed in 2000. Her husband, Dennis Michael Salerno, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.

Mrs. Rizzi asked the manager to remove the shirts from the store, and the manager did so, she said.

After Christmas, Mrs. Rizzi said the manager called her, apologized, and said corporate headquarters told him he had to put the shirts back on the shelf.

I know they re within their rights to market the shirts, but I don t know why they are, said Mrs. Rizzi, who noted that she worked for Kmart in the 1970s.

Ms. Davis said she spoke with a female manager at the Kmart store in Oregon, who was appalled to learn about the T-shirts and pulled them.

She said she was told that Sears Holding Co. made the manager put them back out.

These shirts are extremely, extremely offensive, she said. To encourage young men to use violence to solve their problems, that s actually an insult to their intelligence. To commit a criminal act to solve their problems, we re not solving anything in our society.

Blade Staff Writers Jon Chavez and Joe Vardon contributed to this report.

Contact Christina Hall at:chall@theblade.comor 419-724-6007.



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