Fondren businesses sound off on abortion protests

Rooster’s owner Nathan Glenn says he runs a family restaurant and is aggravated that his customers have to stare at pictures of dead babies every time they bite into a hamburger.

“Their signs are pointed directly at us,” Glenn said, referring to the frequent protesters that picket across the street at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been open for a number of years in Fondren, a shopping and arts district in Jackson’s Woodland Hills neighborhood. The clinic has in recent weeks become a backdrop to the national debate on abortion.

Jackson Women's Health Organization owner Diane Derzis talks with local and national reporters outside federal court last week.

Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan extended an injunction blocking a landmark Mississippi state law that could shut the clinic down. Anti-abortion protesters, police and national media have all shown up at the corner of State Street and Fondren Place to take part in the constitutional showdown.

While the neighboring business owners won’t say where they stand personally on the issue (or give their names in most cases), they all agree that they are tired of the politically charged street corner and how it hurts their bottom line.

“You can’t get into politics as a small business owner,” Glenn says. He said he has made a “truce” with most of the protesters. Instead of leaving signs propped up in front of the restaurant, they have to hold them and stand around the corner away from his windows.

 

Roy McMillan is the face of the anti-abortion protest movement in Fondren and several business owners would just as soon see that face go away.

One businesswoman who wanted to remain nameless said she has seen McMillan harass clinic employees and patients on numerous times, “dog-cussing them… using the N-word” and calling them “baby killers” as they walk down the sidewalk.

“I tripped over that silly little doll,” she said, referring to a McMillan protest prop. “I kicked it out into the middle of State Street.”

Parking is also an issue, she said. One car last Wednesday had been parked all morning in a 15-minute space. “My customers can’t park here,” she said. “I have a family to feed, too.” She said many demonstrators block the sidewalks during “silent prayer vigils” and won’t move over for pedestrians.

Another businessman said the signs often block his view of the street when he tries to pull out of his driveway.

Glenn says dealing with the clinic and its detractors has become part of his business strategy since first opening. He saw his first large protest while Rooster’s was under construction and thought it was a local parade being planned.

Today, many of the protesters eat at his restaurant. So do the clinic employees.

“We just ask for some mutual respect. We’re trying to make a living,” Glenn said. “A lot of the protest groups come in and they’re really good. It’s those bad apples that come in and really make it difficult for the community.

“I think it even makes it difficult for some of the other protesters because at that point it’s so grotesque and so over the top. They’re not doing anything but shooting themselves in the foot and they’re not getting any community support.”

In 2009, Jackson police found a suspicious backpack sitting outside the clinic.

State Street was shut down and the bomb squad was called. Fortunately it was a false alarm.

“We got some press out of that,” Glenn said. “Any press is good press as long as a bomb doesn’t go off.”

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