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

  • 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.

Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

Updated 59 min 49 sec ago

Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

  • Stance relayed during face-to-face talks between British FM, Israeli PM Wednesday
  • ‘We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation’

LONDON: The UK will not proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.

The stance was reportedly relayed by UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron during a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday.

The Israeli government reportedly requested that the UK ban the IRGC following Iran’s drone and missile attack last week.

But Cameron, in what a source called a “blunt” response, told Netanyahu and Katz that doing so would hinder London’s ability to communicate with Tehran.

“We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation,” the source reported Cameron as saying.

If the IRGC were to be proscribed in the UK, it would make membership of it, attending its meetings, displaying its symbols or campaigning for it in the country illegal.

The move has been considered by the UK government for over a year, but Home Office officials have long warned that doing so would sever one of the few remaining diplomatic channels with Tehran. Instead, the IRGC has been sanctioned by the UK government on several occasions.

The US, which has banned the IRGC, has also suggested that the UK should proscribe it. The group’s navy was recently included in a new set of joint sanctions issued by London and Washington.

US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

Updated 18 April 2024

US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

  • 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution
  • Palestinians currently non-member observer state, de facto recognition of statehood

NEW YORK: The US will on Thursday vote against a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, a US official told Reuters, blocking the world body from effectively recognizing a Palestinian state.
“It remains the US view that the most expeditious path toward statehood for the Palestinian people is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the support of the United States and other partners,” the US official said.
The 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.”
A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.
“We have long been clear that premature actions in New York, even with the best intentions, will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people,” the US official said.
The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a de facto recognition of statehood that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.
The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.
“Failure to make progress toward a two-State solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.
“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council.
He said granting full UN membership to the Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”
The UN Security Council has long endorsed a vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.
Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, asked the United States: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?“
“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution ... are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.
Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”

After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

Updated 18 April 2024

After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

  • Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required stringent containment
  • Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size

LONDON: The World Health Organization and around 500 experts have agreed for the first time what it means for a disease to spread through the air, in a bid to avoid the confusion early in the COVID-19 pandemic that some scientists have said cost lives.
The Geneva-based UN health agency released a technical document on the topic on Thursday. It said it was the first step toward working out how to better prevent this kind of transmission, both for existing diseases like measles and for future pandemic threats.
The document concludes that the descriptor “through the air” can be used for infectious diseases where the main type of transmission involves the pathogen traveling through the air or being suspended in the air, in line with other terms such as “waterborne” diseases, which are understood across disciplines and by the public.
Almost 500 experts contributed to the definition, including physicists, public health professionals and engineers, many of whom disagreed bitterly over the topic in the past.
Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required very stringent containment measures; the new definition says the risk of exposure and severity of disease should also be considered.
Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size, which the new definition moves away from.
During the early days of COVID in 2020, around 200 aerosol scientists publicly complained that the WHO had failed to warn people of the risk that the virus could spread through the air. This led to an overemphasis on measures like handwashing to stop the virus, rather than focusing on ventilation, they said.
On Wednesday, Democrats in the Arizona state House failed to repeal a controversial ban on abortion that dates back to 1864 after they couldn’t muster Republican support.
By July 2020, the agency said there was “evidence emerging” of airborne spread, but its then chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan – who began the process to get a definition – later said, opens new tab the WHO should have been more forceful “much earlier.”
Her successor, Jeremy Farrar, said in an interview that the new definition was about more than COVID, but he added that at the beginning of the pandemic there was a lack of evidence available and experts including the WHO acted in “good faith.” At that time, he was head of the Wellcome Trust charity and advised the British government on the pandemic.
Farrar said getting the definition agreed among experts from all disciplines would allow discussions to begin about issues such as ventilation in many different settings, from hospitals to schools.
He compared it to the realization that blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis B could be spread by medics not wearing gloves during procedures.
“When I started out, medical students, nurses, doctors, none of us wore gloves to take blood,” he told Reuters. “Now it is unthinkable that you wouldn’t wear gloves. But that came because everyone agreed on what the issue was, they agreed on the terminology… [The change in practice] came later.”

Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

Updated 18 April 2024

Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

  • Mohammed Salem won for heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece
  • Inas Abu Maamar holds five-year-old Saly, killed along with her mother and sister when Israeli missile struck their home

PARIS: Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem captured this year’s prestigious World Press Photo of the Year award Thursday with a depiction of loss and sorrow in Gaza, a heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece. The photograph, taken in Khan Younis just days after Salem’s own child was born, shows 36-year-old Inas Abu Maamar holding five-year-old Saly, who was killed along with her mother and sister when an Israeli missile struck their home.
Salem, who is Palestinian, described this photo filed Nov. 2 last year, as a “powerful and sad moment that sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip.”
The image ”truly encapsulates this sense of impact,” said global jury chair Fiona Shields, The Guardian newspaper’s head of photography. “It is incredibly moving to view and at the same time an argument for peace, which is extremely powerful when peace can sometimes feel like an unlikely fantasy,” she added.
The World Press Photo jury praised the shot’s sense of care and respect and its offering of a “metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss.”

This image provided by World Press Photo and taken by Julia Kochetova is part of a series titles War is Personal which won the World Press Photo Open Format Award. Amidst tens of thousands of civilian and military causalities and an effective stalemate that has lasted for months, there are no signs of peace on the horizon for Russia’s war in Ukraine. (World Press Photo via AP)

This is not the first time Salem has been recognized for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he received a World Press Photo award more than a decade ago for another depiction of the human toll of conflict in the Gaza strip.
In the three other global categories announced Thursday, South Africa’s Lee-Ann Olwage won Photo Story of the Year for her touching series “Valim-babena,” featured in GEO magazine. The project focused on the stigmatization of dementia in Madagascar, a topic she explored through intimate portraits of “Dada Paul” and his family. Lack of public awareness surrounding dementia means that people displaying symptoms of memory loss are often stigmatized.
In the series, “Dada Paul,” who has lived with dementia for 11 years, is tenderly cared for by his daughter Fara. One of the standout images in the series shows him preparing for church with his granddaughter Odliatemix, capturing moments of normalcy and warmth amidst the challenges of dementia.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of a multimedia project by AP’s Renata Brito and Felipe Dana title Adrift, won the World Press Photo Africa Regional Winner Open Format category and shows a mortuary technician opening the door of a refrigerator used to store the remains of migrants recovered from inside the Mauritania boat that appeared drifting near the island of Tobago in Scarborough on January 25, 2022. (AP)

Photographer Alejandro Cegarra, a Venezuelan native who migrated to Mexico in 2017, won the Long-Term Project award for “The Two Walls,” published by The New York Times and Bloomberg. Cegarra’s project, initiated in 2018, examines a shift in Mexico’s immigration policies, which have moved from being historically open to enforcing strict regulations at its southern border. The jury said the photographer’s perspective as a migrant gave it a “sensitive,” human-centered perspective, according to a press release.
Julia Kochetova of Ukraine won the Open Format award for “War Is Personal.” The project stood out from coverage of the ongoing conflict by offering a personal look at the harsh realities of war. On a dedicated website, she merged traditional photojournalism with a diary-like documentary style, incorporating photography, poetry, audio clips and music.
The Associated Press won the Open Format award in the regional Africa category with the multimedia story “Adrift,” created by journalists Renata Brito and Felipe Dana. The story investigates the fate of West African migrants who attempted to reach Europe via a treacherous Atlantic route but ended up on a ghost ship discovered off Tobago. The team’s compelling use of photography, cinematography and detailed narrative, enhanced by expert design and multimedia elements, highlights the perils faced by migrants and the human stories behind global migration issues.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of series titles Afghanistan on the Edge by Ebrahim Noroozi, Associated Press, which won the World Press Photo Asia Series category and shows three Afghan internally displaced children look with surprise at an apple that their mother brought home after begging in a camp on the outskirts of Kabul on February 2, 2023. (AP)

The Associated Press’ Ebrahim Noroozi won the Asia Stories award for his series “Afghanistan on the Edge,” which documents the country since the Taliban took over in August 2021.
World Press Photo is an independent, nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, founded in 1955.

France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday in Paris. (File/Reuters/AFP)
Updated 18 April 2024

France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

  • Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired
  • Former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis

PARIS: France President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun on Friday in Paris, the French presidency said.
The announcement on Thursday comes as fears have increased in recent days of a regional escalation in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic and political crisis.
That has been compounded by near-daily cross-border fire between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and neighboring Israel ever since war erupted on October 7 between Israel and Hamas, a Hezbollah ally.
Hezbollah on Thursday said two of its fighters had been killed as Israel appeared to intensify strikes on south Lebanon following an attack by the Iran-backed group that wounded 14 Israeli soldiers.
Fears of a regional conflict have spiked in recent days after Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.
Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired, with its feuding factions repeatedly failing in parliament to elect a new leader.
The multi-confessional former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis.
Mikati has been prime minister since 2021 but leads a caretaker government with limited powers.
Joseph Aoun, no relation to the country’s former president, has good relations with all sides in the country and is sometimes put forward as someone who could lead it out of political deadlock.
Macron has visited the country twice in recent years in a bid to help bring it out of crisis, but then in 2023 assigned the task to former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.