Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides

Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides
Arab store owners said that they believe Lightfoot is motivated in part by racism against Arabs and Muslims. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 September 2021

Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides

Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides
  • More than 100 Arab-owned businesses have been shut down by city authorities in the past two months over minor code violations.
  • Owners say mayor Lori Lightfoot is closing their businesses in the mistaken belief it will stem a record surge in street gang violence and killings.

CHICAGO: Alderman Raymond Lopez said on Monday that city council members are reviewing allegations made by more than 50 Arab American and Muslim small-business owners against Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s business inspection department.

At a press conference held at an Arab-owned business closed by the city for more than 52 days at 79th and Western on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Arab and Muslim business operators claimed that the city was intentionally seeking to shut down their businesses.

Arab store owners said that they believe Lightfoot is motivated in part by racism against Arabs and Muslims, but is also closing the stores in the mistaken belief that it might reduce the city’s skyrocketing street gang murder rate.

“Today I joined nearly two dozen business owners who feel they have been unfairly targeted by racist tactics supposedly focused on reducing gang violence in Chicago,” Lopez, the alderman of the 15th ward, told the gathering of 25 Arab and Muslim store owners.

“Sadly, two days after mayor Lightfoot declared that 9/11 gave rise to much anti-Arab hatred in America, she herself, in declaring war on gang terrorists, is also targeting Arab business owners in mostly African-American communities.”

He added: “Lightfoot is once again showing she does not understand how to address violence in a nuanced manner, instead choosing blanket policies that target entire demographics and play on local stereotypes.”

Last weekend, Chicago saw 56 shootings and eight fatalities. On the previous Labor Day weekend, 75 people were shot and eight killed, including one police officer. As of Sept. 1, 2021, Chicago police reported 524 gun-related deaths and 2,344 shootings.

Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, was joined at the press conference by 18 Arab, Asian and Muslim business owners whose stores have been closed for between one week and three months.

Closures are driven by a combination of “racism and the city’s uncontrolled and skyrocketing violence,” he said.

“This week, Americans joined together to commemorate one of the worst attacks on the US by foreign terrorists 20 years ago, and officials across the country, including here in Chicago, repeated their concerns that Americans should not take out their anger on Arabs or Muslims,” Nijem said.

“And yet, right here in Chicago, we believe that mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city have engaged in exactly that, targeting Arabs, Muslims and people who look Arab, including Asian Americans, and discriminating against them, singling us out for punishment and reprisal because of who we are.”

Nijem said the business owners are asking the city council to convene a special investigation into the actions of the mayor’s task force, arguing that in addition to harming business owners financially it is depriving the city, county and state of sales tax and gasoline tax revenues.

He said that the typical store owner is losing as much as $50,000 a month in revenue, much of which goes to the city in taxes, in addition to putting more than 300 employees out of work while the stores remain closed.

“We don’t know the full extent of how many stores are being closed, but it is widespread,” Nijem said, adding that he has spoken to about 50 business operators whose stores have been closed so far.

Requests for comment were directed to Lightfoot, Building Department commissioner Matthew Beaudet and inspector Marlene Hopkins, and Water Department inspector Thomas Lynch.

Victor Owoeye, Lightfoot’s deputy press secretary, said in a statement: “The city has been working closely with gas station owners to ensure compliance with the municipal code. Two weeks ago, a deputy mayor as well as several senior departmental leaders from the Department of Buildings, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, and the Chicago Police Department hosted a round table for these very businesses. As a follow-up to the requests from the business owners, the city is providing business liaison teams and code checklists to businesses to engage on affirmative compliance.”

However, in responding to the initial request for comment, the officials inadvertently replied with the full email chain, including the department heads, and Owoeye, who told them: “My thoughts would be not to engage here. Any thoughts?”

But Nijem said that while the mayor’s staff met with some Arab and Muslim business leaders from Chicago’s suburbs, none met with the chamber or with any of the store owners who attended the press conference.

Several store owners, including Shihdeh Abu Khalil, who has been operating gas stations, said that the city previously worked with store owners to correct code violations without closing the outlets.

“The city of Chicago recently has been coming to gas stations and small businesses with the mindset to close the businesses down. We are not familiar with this,” Abu Khalil said.

“Before they used to come and consult with us, and advise us on how to fix different things. I am appealing to the mayor and those overseeing this situation to work with the business owners to correct any violations so we can open and do business in the city.”

Ayser Abu Shanab, who owned a gas station and grocery store, said that city inspectors first came to him and issued a series of citations on July 23, 2021.

“The task force gave us a list of violations that could have been corrected if they gave us some time. But they just decided to close us. We called them back on Aug. 13 and they came in and they added more violations from the initial one. We didn’t know anything about it and we could have fixed them before we called them,” Abu Shanab said.

“We didn’t know anything about any other violations besides what they gave us on paper. I had to visit the website of building permits and inspection records and find out 35 extra violations that were not on the initial one.”

Abu Shanab said that he has had no response to telephone calls or email queries to the inspection team.

Saad Malley said that his two gas stations are within one mile of other gas stations that have been targeted and closed by the authorities.

“Every day I come to work I am in fear that this task force will come and close us down with no prior notice,” he said.

“At stake is the livelihood of about 12 employees, myself and, of course, the neighborhood. We are a neighborhood gas station. All of the neighbors come to us for convenience. We are surprised that the city of Chicago is targeting minority-owned gas stations. And gas stations are an essential service.”

He added: “For some reason, the idea to close a gas station that is minority owned is seen as fighting crime. We do not control who comes to our gas stations any more than a hotel, hospital or restaurant controls who comes into their parking lot. We are asking that the city cease and desist this racially motivated attack on minority-owned gas stations and businesses.”

Nijem said that about 300 Arab-owned businesses could be affected by the city’s new policy to cite and close stores.


Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways

Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways
Updated 20 May 2022

Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways

Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways
  • The inhabitants of two of the blocks, which sit barely 100 metres apart across an overgrown lot, could be living in different worlds
  • Across the lot, where abandoned cats nose through the long grass and children once played around a set of rusting swings, the contrast in the conditions could not be more stark

SLATYNE, Ukraine: The only 10 residents left in the Commune, an apartment complex in the eastern Ukraine town of Slatyne, share the hardships of Russia’s invasion, from relentless shellfire and exploding rounds to a lack of power and running water.
But the inhabitants of two of the blocks, which sit barely 100 meters apart across an overgrown lot, could be living in different worlds.
Inside Vera Filipova’s gloomy, grimy home, blackened pots litter the messy kitchen and rumpled comforters sit on unkempt beds.
“It’s like hell,” the 65-year-old retired shop clerk told Reuters. She lives with her friend Nataliya Parkamento, a former shoe factory worker who moved in after her own home was destroyed.
This block is largely intact — unlike many buildings in Slatyne, the Commune has escaped a direct hit from the nearby fighting of a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has driven Russian troops away from the city of Kharkiv over the last two weeks.
But Filipova and Parkamento only have enough humanitarian aid to eat once a day. They cook outside on an open fire of shattered wood they pull from other destroyed homes, shielding the flames from rain with corrugated cement sheeting blown off a roof.
“I have nowhere to go and nobody to take me out of here,” said Parkamento, who fetches drinking water in a plastic bottle from a nearby well.
Across the lot, where abandoned cats nose through the long grass and children once played around a set of rusting swings, the contrast in the conditions could not be more stark.

’WINDOWS ARE BEING SMASHED’
There, Larissa and the six other residents tend neat gardens of roses, peonies, carrots and spring onions. They wash with buckets of water drawn from Slatyne’s many wells. Laundry dries on lines outside their tidy apartments, beds draped with colorful covers, house plants growing in glassed-in balconies.
The conditions are just as challenging. “Windows are being smashed, walls are being destroyed and there is nothing we can do about it,” Larissa, 46, said. But she and the others in her block have tried to make the best of it.
The seven residents — none would give their last names – said they share the humanitarian aid delivered to the complex by volunteers from the nearby town of Dergachi, supplementing it with pickled vegetables stocked in a basement.
Alla, 52, who managed a subway station in Kharkiv, 28 km (17 miles) to the south down a remote, shell-blasted road, cooks for everyone in her kitchen on a stove powered by a gas bottle. When shellfire eases, she ventures out with her husband, Volodymyr, 57, a railway worker who acts as the block’s handyman, to an abandoned home to make meals on a brick grill.
No one in either of the blocks could say why their experiences were so different. “I don’t know,” Filipova responded when asked why she and Parkamento put up with their bleak living conditions.
When the war came, some just found the energy to organize and surmount the hardships together while others languished in despair.
“We’ve tried helping them,” said Anna, 66, a tenant of the second block who has lived for 19 years in the complex built in the early 1970s. “When the humanitarian aid deliveries arrive, we visit Vera and Nataliya to bring them their aid.”
She and some of the other residents said a key to their resilience was maintaining a strict routine, cooking enough food for two days of breakfasts and dinners, eating the former at noon and the latter at 4 pm.

’WE CARE FOR EACH OTHER’
In between, they said, they haul water, read, and tend their gardens and chat, sitting on sunny days at a makeshift table in the shadow of their block, trying to ignore frequent blasts and occasional far-off small arms fire.
“All of the people who have stayed here for the last three months are like family,” Anna said of her companions. “We have got close to each other. We care for each other.”
Gardening is especially calming.
“I love the soil,” said Alla, whose family hails from a farming village in a Russian-controlled area north of Slatyne. “My soul would ache if I could not plant anything in that earth. It distracts you. How is it not possible not to love your soil?”
For all the differences in how they cope, the war is ever present for the seven friends, Filipova and Parkamento, and Volodiya Stachuk, a 34-year-old tractor driver who lives in the basement of another block next to that of the two women.
None can forget being jarred awake the night that a Russian missile plunged into an adjacent house earlier this month.
The explosion blew out that building’s walls and roof, shattered many of the Commune’s windows and shredded Stachuk’s apartment with shrapnel, forcing him to move to his basement.
The blast also killed Filipova’s cat, Gina, she said, and left Alla with a memento of the exact moment of her brush with death.
“The explosion knocked a clock off my wall and broke it,” she recalled. “It stopped at 12:05 am.”


Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict

Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict
Updated 20 May 2022

Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict

Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict
  • Shevchuk faces a maximum fine of $800 if found guilty
  • A case has been launched against him for "publicly discrediting the use of Russia's armed forces"

MOSCOW: Soviet rock legend and outspoken Kremlin critic Yuri Shevchuk has been charged with “discrediting” the Russian army after condemning Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine during a concert.
Shevchuk faces a maximum fine of 50,000 rubles (770 euros, $800) if found guilty.
A case has been launched against him for “publicly discrediting the use of Russia’s armed forces,” a court in the city of Ufa in central Russia told the RIA Novosti news agency.
RIA Novosti said the case would be transferred to Shevchuk’s hometown Saint Petersburg.
On May 18, the 65-year-old performer told his audience in Ufa that it “is not the president’s ass that needs to be licked and kissed,” according to videos posted online.
“Now people are being killed in Ukraine. Why? Our guys are dying in Ukraine. Why?” he told a cheering crowd.
The frontman of the 1980s Soviet rock band DDT, Shevchuk has over the years publicly criticized President Vladimir Putin and opposed the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.


France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases
CDC microscopic image shows monkeypox virus particles. (Reuters)
Updated 20 May 2022

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases
  • France, Belgium and Germany reported their first cases of monkeypox, joining several other European and North American nations in detecting the disease

PARIS: France, Belgium and Germany on Friday reported their first cases of monkeypox, joining several other European and North American nations in detecting the disease, endemic in parts of Africa.
Monkeypox was identified in a 29-year-old man in the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, who had not recently returned from a country where the virus is circulating, France’s health authorities said Friday.
Separately, the German armed forces’ microbiology institute said it has confirmed the virus in a patient who developed skin lesions — a symptom of the disease.
And in Belgium, microbiologist Emmanuel Andre confirmed in a tweet that the University of Leuven’s lab had confirmed a second of two cases in the country, in a man from the Flemish Brabant.
With the growing number of detected cases in several European countries, Germany’s health agency Robert Koch Institute has urged people returning from West Africa to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.
The rare disease — which is not usually fatal — often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.
Cases of monkeypox have also been detected in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden as well as in the United States and Canada, leading to fears that the disease — normally concentrated in Central and West Africa — may be spreading.
Monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks, according to the WHO.


Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police

Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police
The attacker was initially suspected of having chosen victims at random. (Shutterstock)
Updated 20 May 2022

Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police

Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police
  • At least three people were stabbed with a sharp object, leaving one critically injured
  • Police at first said the attack in the village of Nore as random

A suspect was arrested in Norway after at least three people were stabbed with a sharp object, leaving one critically injured Friday, police said.
Police at first said the attack in the village of Nore as random, but later clarified that there was “a family relationship” between the assailant and at least one of the victims.
“This is a family from Syria, and the perpetrator and one of the injured are married,” police inspector Odd Skei Kostveit said in a statement.
Police said the suspect was a man who had received a restraining order in December following an investigation of domestic violence.
The suspect, who also was injured, was held on suspicion of “grievous bodily harm,” police said.
Two people were flown to a nearby hospital by helicopter, police said.
Nore, a village in the Numedal valley, is located 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Oslo, Norway’s capital.
It was not immediately clear where in the village the attack took place. Norwegian media said a bus driver and students from a local school overpowered the suspect.
The school confirmed the incident on its website and said that its crisis management team was assisting the police and following up with the school’s students and staff.
Police spokesman Tor Richard Jansen confirmed that civilians overpowered the alleged assailant and “handed him over to firefighters” who arrived before the police.
William Scott, who was in the area delivering goods, told the VG newspaper he saw an injured woman lying on the ground.
“At first I thought it was a collision because there was a large pool of blood on the ground,” he said.
Norwegian broadcaster TV2 cited a witness saying bleeding victims came running from behind a convenience store. Pools of blood were seen on the asphalt, TV2 said.
“Such acts of violence are serious and despairing,” Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said in a statement.
The village which is surrounded by mountains, sits 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Kongsberg, where five people were fatally stabbed and four wounded in October when Espen Andersen Bråthen attacked strangers with a bow and arrows and knives.
Andersen Bråthen pleaded guilty at the start of his trial Wednesday. He also faces 11 counts of attempted murder for the attack in Kongsberg, a former mining town of 26,000 people.


Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain
More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain
  • Russia will likely use troops from the city to reinforce operations elsewhere in the eastern industrial Donbas region, Britain’s Defense Ministry said

KYIV: With the number of defenders left holed up in a Mariupol steel factory dwindling, Russian commanders will be coming under increasing pressure to reallocate troops from the strategic southern port city to bolster their offensive in eastern Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday.
More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday, Russian authorities said, in what appeared to be the final stage in the nearly three-month siege of the now-pulverized port city.
An unknown number of defenders remain in the sprawling complex, which is the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city — a target from the start of the invasion that has been under effective Russian control for some time.
If the factory falls, Russia will likely use troops from the city to reinforce operations elsewhere in the eastern industrial Donbas region, but the duration of the stiff resistance will complicate or prolong that maneuver, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a daily intelligence report.
“Staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be redeployed effectively,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
“Russian commanders, however, are under pressure to demonstrably achieve operational objectives. That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition.”
Analysts have said it is likely that most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the battle there have already left.
How long the remaining troops in the Azovstal factory can still hold out, however, is not clear.
In a brief video message Thursday, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defense of the steel mill, said he and other fighters were still inside.
“An operation is underway, the details of which I will not announce,” Svyatoslav Palamar said.
Ukrainian troops, bolstered by Western weapons, thwarted Russia’s initial goal of storming the capital, Kyiv, and have put up stiff resistance against Moscow’s forces in the Donbas, which President Vladimir Putin now has set his sights on capturing.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had gathered personal information from hundreds of the soldiers who had surrendered — name, date of birth, closest relative — and registered them as prisoners as part of its role in ensuring the humane treatment of POWs under the Geneva Conventions.
Amnesty International said in a tweet that the POW status means that the soldiers “must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment.”
At least some of the fighters were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. Others were hospitalized, according to a separatist official.
While Ukraine expressed hope for a prisoner exchange, Russian authorities have threatened to investigate some of the Azovstal fighters for war crimes and put them on trial, branding them “Nazis” and criminals.
The Azov Regiment’s far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast Russia’s invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.