Chicago aldermen to host “forum” to explore Mayor Lightfoot’s racist crackdown on Arab stores
Several Chicago Aldermen will convene a Special Forum on Monday May 9 at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois (ICCI) at 6435 W. Belmont Avenue to examine the forced closure of more than 150 Arab American owned stores last summer by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The racist targeting of Arab Americans and Muslim store owners resulted int he losses of hundreds of millions of dollars not only in revenues to the store owners but also the collection of sales and gas taxes to the state, county and city of Chicago.
By Ray Hanania
Chicago Aldermen will hold a special forum on Monday May 9, 2022 at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois (ICCI) beginning at 11 AM to explore why Mayor Lightfoot closed more than 150 Arab American owned stores last summer that ended only when she was called out by community leaders.
Last summer, a Task Force of Building Department Inspectors and Chicago Police officers were dispatched in a high profile campaign to target and close Arab American owned stores in the city, especially those that remain open 24 hours each day. Although Lightfoot never addressed the purpose of the campaign, and while her aides declined to discuss the details or reasons for the closures, many store owners believed from talking with police and inspectors that it had to do with a misguided effort to prevent street gang members from having a place to hang out during the late evening hours and early mornings.
But almost all of the stores closed were Arab American, more than 150 counted by the American Arab Chamber of Commerce (AACC), said AACC President Hassan Nijem. In early September, Nijem and the Chamber board organized several press conferences to put a spotlight on the closures, and the exposure forced Mayor Lightfoot to back down and allow all of the stores to reopen.
“In fact, in many cases, the inspectors had a much different attitude after the press conference than the one they had when they closed the stores down and they became very helpful and supportive,” Nijem said.
The press conference featured about 10 store owners who detailed the experience they had when their stores were closed over minor building code violations. They described how the police would come in with their sirens and lights flashing and teams of inspectors would walk through the stores, issues citations “on every possible thing they could find” and then order the stores shutdown.
Some stores, Nijem said, were closed more than three months. Gas station owners said that the closure of their stores cost them more than $70,000 of lost revenue each month. But it also resulted in lost sales and gas taxes to the state, the county and the city, and the layoff of more than 500 employees many from the inner-city neighborhoods where the stores were located.
“It was ill conceived and an act that injured so many store owners,” Nijem said.
Nijem said that many of the store owners were afraid to identify themselves at the press conferences fearing that there would be reprisals.
The Forum will be held on Monday, May 9, beginning at 11 am at the ICCI, at 6435 W. Belmont Avenue. It will be convened by several members of the Chicago City Council including Alderman Gilbert Villegas, Alderman Raymond Lopez and Alderman Silvana Tabares.
Arab American store owners will address the forum and share their experiences including the demeaning manner in which they were addressed by deputies in the Chicago Building Department and how Mayor Lightfoot’s office refused to respond to queries from the Arab American community and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce about the purpose and intent of the many shutdowns.
For more information on the forum, visit the Chamber’s website at www.AACCUSA.org.