In what community where Muslim settlers reside in large numbers is there peace? And why isn’t black lives matters protesting?
A bullet fired on Mother’s Day on the city’s west side put a Black man in his grave and has unearthed decades-old turmoil between African American residents and Arab American businesses
A scuffle between a gas station clerk and the unarmed customer at a Citgo gas station was stopped short when Rami Ali Jaber, son of the station’s owner, came out from behind the glass and shot 34-year-old Derek Leon Roberts.
The 26-year-old Dearborn Heights resident is being charged with first-degree murder and felony firearms violations by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office — and is recognized by a group of African and Arab American officials and activists as another example of how sour inter-community relations could turn deadly.
On June 1, Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch NAACP and senior pastor at Fellowship Chapel in Detroit, convened a meeting at Fellowship Chapel with Arab Americans who own gas stations in Detroit and African American business owners, activists, City Council members and a police official to discuss implementing measures to help keep businesses accountable and make neighborhoods safer.
They want Arab Americans, who’ve long benefited from small shops and other entrepreneurial successes in Detroit, to address prevalent misunderstandings about Blacks, to be better neighbors and to give back to the community. The Arab gas station owners present at the meeting said they are already doing their part, but promised to boost efforts to get others on board.
Discussion regarding civil rights in the wake of a racially-charged killing were not held without contentious moments. As talks began, Arab businessmen sitting together on one side of the roundtable took offense to a list of demands set by Black activists.
“This isn’t a negotation, this a conversation,” said Nasser Baydoun, a Detroit gas station owner and chair of the Arab American Civil Rights League. “There are no demands that are going to be made; this is to reach an agreement.”
Negus Vu, president of New Era Detroit, firmly upheld the demands, saying Anthony “opened up his house” so suggestions could be relayed and expectations fulfilled.
Demands presented to the Arab American businessmen included that Roberts’ funeral arrangements be paid for, adherance to safety codes and cleanliness standards, a public apology to be posted at the store and that all employees receive customer service and cultural competency training.
Additional demands included that businesses stop selling loose cigarettes and illegal drug paraphernalia, that they employ more African Americans and build partnerships and make annual donations to community, youth and block organizations.
“Too many times we see businesses come into a community where they’re not necessarily from that community and they benefit business wise, ” Vu said while reading out demands. “And they don’t actually interact with any organizations and churches within that community.”
The now-closed Citgo where the shooting occurred had been illegally selling loose cigarettes and drug paraphernalia.
There are about 300 gas stations in Detroit and not all are bad neighbors.
African Americans participating in the dialogue acknowledged that the Arab gas station owners present are already good corporate neighbors and are meeting their demands, but said they encouraged them to identify best practices and spread them to other gas stations.
Baydoun, who led the conversation on behalf of Detroit Arab American gas station owners, shared the African Americans’ concerns and said he and his fellow businessmen at the table respect the community and their customers.
In fact, most of the stations owners at the meeting were among the first to remove anti-anxiety K9 pills off the shelves, before they were made illegal in the early ’90s and are the original group that started the Green Light Project, Baydoun said.
A unique public-private partnership between businesses and the Detroit Police Department that began two years ago, The Green Light Project is now a network of about 340 businesses, including gas stations, party stores, car washes, restaurants and residential buildings.
A partnering business can be identified by a noticeable flashing green light and signs announcing that police are monitoring the businesses 24/7 through high-definition surveillance cameras with face detection features.
Moussa Bazzi, co-owner of three gas stations on Detroit’s east side for about three decades, told The AANews he’s seen an increase in sales and a decrease in theft inside the store and at the pumps since his businesses became Green Light partners.
He added that many Arab Americans dive into the gas station businesses without knowing anything about their customers. Most times, the owners employ Middle Eastern newcomers who speak little English and don’t screen them for criminal records or mental fitness.
Given the inherent stresses of operating what is considered a de facto 24/7 neighborhood convenience store, Bazzi said he wished all gas station employees were required to pass a specific course on customer service.
“Some of the worst employees are Arab American employees,” he said. “You need to hire people who understand the community they’re dealing with.”
Another meeting participant said there were other underlying and systemic issues than Arab American business owners not hiring the right staff.
“There’s a lack of respect of different cultures between the person behind the glass and the patron coming into the store,” he said. “We feel like you guys don’t respect us and our money.”
He pointed out that employees behind the glass often speak in another language in front of a customer, often only allow a certain number of customers in at a time and sometimes raise taxes on goods.
Arab-American is a euphemism for Muslims. When Muslims are the victims, real or purported, the term is not used. But when Muslims are the suspects, they obfuscate and hide behind the Arab-American moniker.