Bodega trade group leader urges NYC members to arm themselves

The comments were made after a meeting with soft-on-crime DA Alvin Bragg, whose prosecution of Alba has sparked national outrage

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Bodega trade group leader urged NYC members Tuesday to arm themselves – after meeting with embattled New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg over his prosecution of clerk Jose Alba, who fatally stabbed a man in self-defense.

"We want to make sure every bodega owner in New York City that is law-abiding, that feels the necessity to carry a licensed gun, to go and apply for it. Why? Because you need to be able to defend yourself," Fernando Mateo, co-founder of United Bodegas of America, said at a press conference outside the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

"For those that believe that criminals should roam our streets and do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it, your time has come," he cautioned.

Mateo, along with Yemeni American Merchants Association board member Debbie Almontaser, met with Bragg earlier Tuesday over the murder case against Alba, 61, who fatally stabbed ex-convict Austin Simon, 35, July 1. 

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A photo of Alvine Bragg embedded in a screenshot of surveillance video obtained by the New York Post showing Jose Alba's deadly confrontation with ex-convict Austin Simon.

A photo of Alvine Bragg embedded in a screenshot of surveillance video obtained by the New York Post showing Jose Alba's deadly confrontation with ex-convict Austin Simon. (Barry Williams via Getty/NYPost video)

Bragg allegedly told the group that he doesn’t oppose "law-abiding business owners like bodega owners carrying a gun," said Mateo, who called the meeting "very productive." 

He added that the group would patiently wait for Bragg to complete his investigation and "exonerate" Alba.

But a DA spokesman disagreed with Mateo's characterization of Bragg's comments. 

United Bodegas of America co-founder Fernando Mateo at a press conference Tuesday outside the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. The woman on the left in pink sweater is Debbie Almontaser, a representative of the Yemeni American Merchants Association.

United Bodegas of America co-founder Fernando Mateo at a press conference Tuesday outside the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. The woman on the left in pink sweater is Debbie Almontaser, a representative of the Yemeni American Merchants Association. (Screenshot of press conference)

While the DA acknowledged in the meeting that residents now have a constitutional right to apply for a license after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York State law restricting who could obtain permits - he did not endorse this approach, spokesman Doug Cohen said in a statement.

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"DA Bragg expressed support for New York’s strong gun laws, and emphasized that more guns in our communities make us less safe," the statement reads.

The case against Alba has sparked national outrage – especially among bodega workers. The altercation began when Simon’s girlfriend tried to buy a bag of chips for her 10-year-old daughter using her electronic benefits card, but the transaction was declined, according to a criminal complaint against Alba. 

"My n— is going to come down here right now and f—k you up!" the irate mom threatened Alba, according to surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post.

 Minutes later, she returned with Simon who stormed into Alba’s cubicle and violently shoved the older, smaller man into a chair. As the two tussled, Alba grabbed a kitchen knife and killed him, the complaint says.

Simon has 27 prior arrests and was on parole for assault at the time of the deadly confrontation, police sources told Fox New Digital. 

A photo combination of Austin Simon's mugshot and the interior of the Bluemoon convenience store where he was stabbed to death after attacking clerk Jose Alba July 1.

A photo combination of Austin Simon's mugshot and the interior of the Bluemoon convenience store where he was stabbed to death after attacking clerk Jose Alba July 1. (Google)

Alba spent nearly a week locked up in Rikers Island on $500,000 cash bail.  He was released last week after a judge lowered his bail to a $50,000 bond, which his family posted.

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Not all the bodega trade groups supported workers arming themselves. Almontaser said the Yemeni American Merchants Association did not endorse workers carrying firearms and urged them to have faith in the police and to call 911. 

A screenshot of surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post that shows Austin Simon's girlfriend allegedly stab bodega clerk Jose Alba. The woman attacked Alba to try stop him from stabbing her boyfriend.

A screenshot of surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post that shows Austin Simon's girlfriend allegedly stab bodega clerk Jose Alba. The woman attacked Alba to try stop him from stabbing her boyfriend. (New York Post)

"When there’s a gun to your head, it’s very difficult to call 911 but if you survive that then call 911," added Mateo. "If you are being assaulted or beaten up, there’s really no time to call 911, but after that happens, call 911."

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Several convenience store clerks near Bragg’s childhood home on W. 139th St. in Harlem blasted the prosecutor for his decision to charge Alba.

"[Jose Alba] did the right thing. His life was in danger even if the DA don’t believe that," said Ramón Betances, who called Bragg out of touch with the public. "Once someone goes behind the counter you are in danger."