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Published: Monday, 1/22/2007

Demonstrators protest 'problem solved' T-shirts

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Past Rizzi, center, whose daughter was killed in a domestic violence incident, presents a folder with a letter and petition to a Kmart representative, left. An unidentified protester, right, holds one of the controversial T-shirts. Past Rizzi, center, whose daughter was killed in a domestic violence incident, presents a folder with a letter and petition to a Kmart representative, left. An unidentified protester, right, holds one of the controversial T-shirts.
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A T-shirt sold at Kmart stores that shows a boy pushing down a girl and calls the action "Problem Solved" drew more than 50 protesters to the sidewalk in front of the chain's Alexis Road store yesterday afternoon.

Many passing drivers honked their horns - apparently in support - as parents of young people who were slain in domestic violence, representatives of the Toledo chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Take Back the Night Collective, and others shivered in the 27-degree temperatures.

Most held signs referring to the T-shirt carried in Kmart's boys department:

•"Attention Shoppers: Kmart has an attitude problem. Recall violent merchandise."

•"Attention! Domestic violence in Aisle 7."

•"Violent T-shirts: Get it off your chest!"

•"There is nothing light-hearted about domestic violence."

During the rally, which lasted about 35 minutes, three parents of domestic violence slaying victims walked across the parking lot to the store to present a letter written to Aylwin Lewis, chief executive and president of Sears Holdings Corp., the parent firm of Kmart and Sears stores.

They were met at the door by a man who would not allow them inside the store and would only identify himself as Charlie. He promised that their letter would be given to the chief executive and gave a phone number for Kmart's corporate office.

Reached there, spokesman Kim Freely said: "We've heard and respect the opinions of our customers and the item is no longer available at Kmart. And we have no plans to reorder it."

She said Kmart had received a few complaints from other areas; the T-shirt was sold nationwide. But Toledo was the only city where she'd heard about a protest.

The Alexis Road store, near Jackman Road, was chosen for the event, according to organizer Pat Rizzi, because it has a sidewalk where the protesters could congregate without being on the store's private property.

Ms. Rizzi, who was employed by Kmart decades ago and is the mother of a woman slain in a domestic dispute, had been horrified recently when she spotted the T-shirts in the store.

The front of the shirt has a design in two panels.

The first panel, labeled "Problem" shows 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 shirt.

The feelings Ms. Rizzi got from the shirt resonated with the group outside the store.

Carolyn Wilson, who teaches high school social studies in Lenawee County's Deerfield Public Schools, said the shirts at Kmart seemed like part of a cultural desensitization of violence that should be addressed.

"I think people need to speak out about corporations selling violence," she said.

Mary Ann Howard, a retired radiology technician, said she had never been to a rally before, but felt a need to actively protest these shirts.

If such shirts are acceptable for sales at Kmart, she said: "No wonder kids do the things they do."

Cheryl Rucker, whose daughter, Shynerra Marie Grant, was killed by an ex-boyfriend when she was 17 and he was 18, said she plans to contact more Kmart leaders and investors.

Ms. Rucker and her husband have led dating violence-prevention sessions for teens, but she said "that shirt undoes everything" they've tried to do.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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