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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is a serial minority community abuser. That’s someone who hides behind their minority status and then proceeds to discriminate against other minorities. In this case, Lightfoot is discriminating against Arab Americans and some Asian Americans, closing their stores over frivolous code violations and asserting through her inspectors that the 24 hour, all-night stores, attract street gangbangers who are fueling the city’s uncontrollable gun related murder rate
By Ray Hanania
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Mayor Lori Lightfoot talk about being a woman, an African American and Gay.
I don’t care what anyone is. But I do care when they exploit minority status for political benefit and then act like hypocrites.
Last week, some 25 Arab American owners of some 50 gas stations and grocery stores in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods with the highest crime rates, complained that they are being targeted for discrimination and politics by Lightfoot’s heavy-handed inspectors.
Speaking with store owners who were brought together by Hassan Nijem, president of The American Arab Chamber of Commerce, I was shocked at how offensive the inspectors have been.
In the past, Chicago would issue code violations and let the stores remain open. Most stores have been in business 30 years or more and know what is wrong and right. They correct the violations immediately.
But this time, Lightfoot created a Special Task Force consisting of a half dozen Police officers and a half dozen inspectors who mostly have been targeting Arab-owned businesses that are open 24 hours. The citations and closure orders always occur on Fridays so no one can request a permit until Monday. The permit process takes weeks because of COVID.
Many Arab stores have been closed more than three months. When they correct alleged code violations, inspectors return and issue even more. One owner told the American Arab Chamber of Commerce President Hassan Nijem, who has championed their cause, the Task Force “came down on us like a crime scene” issuing 10 violations. They shut him down for more than 10 days. He fixed the violations but when inspectors returned, gave him 20 more. He corrected those and again, inspectors returned and issued 35 more.
Two of the store owners said they heard inspectors complain they couldn’t find any code violations but were ordered, “Find something. I Want this store closed.”
The inspectors were disrespectful and even at times racist. They include Inspector Thomas Lynch and First Deputy Commissioner Marlene Hopkins, all working under Building Department Commissioner Matthew Beaudet.
I reached out to Lynch, Hopkins and Beaudet for comment but they wouldn’t respond. Instead, they sent a mealy-mouthed political response through Deputy Press Secretary Victor Owoeye that inadvertently included an email chain between them in which they argued how to ignore me.
Yes, go ahead and ignore me. I’ve been a City Hall reporter covering some of the toughest and smartest mayors and administrations and this one is lined with clowns.
Owoeye sent a blah, blah, blah response in which he asserted the city was working with the store owners to correct code violations. He had a meeting with some of them weeks before. Only two of the 25 store owners said they attended that meeting with Deputy Mayor Samer Mayekar, who is not Arab but is Asian.
In most cases, there were no code violations, just fabricated accusations, some written down on paper. The store owners walked me through their stores. Violations mostly involved extension cords, surge protectors, and missing water backup flow controls on a coffee maker. The most ridiculous were complaints that the spacing between shelves were too narrow. Or, regular lightbulbs had been replaced with LED lighting, which they said was improper.
Why shut down the stores? The racism stems from a stereotype that Arab store owners are disrespectful to African Americans. I know because I appeared on WVON with host Perri Small to talk about it. The difficult truth is that nearly everyone has abandoned the Black community. Arab businessmen have been in the community for more than 50 years. Those Arab store owners who have been disrespectful to the African American community, or who have terrible business practices, have closed by community protest and by being snubbed by respectful Arab owned businesses.
Most Arab store owners support the community, donating to food pantries, needy families, the local aldermen and also employing local residents.
The mayor’s “yadda, yadda, yadda” response didn’t say anything about the 300-plus employees at the 50 stores who lost jobs. It didn’t address the money lost by store owners, more than $50,000 a month. She didn’t waste anytime addressing the hundreds of thousands and maybe millions lost in sales taxes, gasoline taxes to the city, county and state.
The only theory is most of these stores are open 24 hours a day. Lightfoot, who has failed to stop the rising violence and gang shootings – mostly killing African Americans – thinks the all-night stores are oasis for them.
What Chicago needs is to allow the Police to do their jobs and crackdown hard on the street gangs. They know who they are. Being tough sends a clear message that can reduce the number of murders and save lives.
But poor Madam Mayor, a pathetic icon of failed leadership. She can’t protect Chicago’s citizens. She can’t improve the city’s schools. And she can’t even champion the rights of minorities because right now, she is the biggest offender.
I’d love to interview Mayor Lightfoot to hold her accountable, but I don’t fit her color chart of acceptability. She said she only will do interviews with Black and Brown skinned reporters. I’m proudly Olive!
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. His mainstream political columns are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.) SUBSCRIBE BELOW
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