DEARBORN HEIGHTS — An Arab American family is suing the city of Dearborn Heights for alleged racial discrimination by the police. The lawsuit, which was announced at the office of the Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) on Tuesday, says Dearborn Heights police officers failed to investigate an assault against two of the family’s children because of their religion and ethnicity.
According to the legal complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Souad Khaled, 8, and her sister, Fakhrieh Khaled, 14, were assaulted by their next door neighbor who demanded that they clean his lawn.
The complaint states that the girls were cleaning their own front yard on Dec. 6, when the neighbor came out and asked that they pick up the garbage on his lawn. When the girls said they were not responsible for the trash, the neighbor grabbed them by their arms, pulled them to his property and threw them on the ground.
“While grabbing [the girls], the plaintiff’s neighbor yelled the following phrase: ‘You f—ing Arab scarfies,’ indicating that the action by the neighbor was racially and religiously motivated,” the lawsuit reads.
At the press conference, Souad said her uncle called the police shortly after the incident, but when officers arrived at the scene they only knocked on the neighbor’s door and left when he did not answer.
According to a briefing on the dispatch, police closed the incident about 23 minutes after arriving at the Khaleds’ residence. The police dubbed the incident “neighbor trouble”, not assault.
ACRL Chairman Nabih Ayad, who is representing the family, said the neighbor should have been charged with five counts— two charges of assault and battery against a minor, two charges of ethnic intimidation and a charge of trespassing.
Ayad said the children were consistent and honest in telling the police what happened.
Ghassan Khaled, the father of the girls, said the police harassed his family after the incident.
He said a day after the alleged assault, several police officers came to his house and fined him for putting the trash out a day before public service day, even though he had a flood in his basement.
He added that one of the officers who ticketed him said, “‘You Arab come here.’”
He said in the following days, police cars were excessively driving in front of his house; and in one incident, they shined bright lights into the home at night.
Sonia Khaled, the children’s stepmother, said she witnessed officers chatting with the neighbor several times after the incident. She added that she heard the neighbor and a Dearborn Heights cop making racial slurs against Arabs in one conversation.
The family provided reporters with a video taken by their daughter that shows a car and a faint voice, apparently coming from a vehicle, saying, “They’re no different— Palestinian, Lebanese, Arab, Muslim. They hit their children and their women.”
Sonia said that the video is of a casual exchange between the neighbor and a police officer.
“Don’t Dearborn Heights cops have something better to do than to gossip and have racist conversations with the man who assaulted our girls?” she asked.
The Arab American News could not verify the authenticity of the video.
Ghassan said his family is being targeted because of their Arab descent.
Ayad said Dearborn Heights has failed to protect its own residents.
“It’s unfortunate; it’s unconstitutional; it’s illegal; it’s unprincipled and unethical that the Dearborn Heights police continue to treat Arab Americans as second-class citizens,” he said.
He added that the ACRL has received several complaints alleging bias against Arab Americans by the Dearborn Heights police.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “The Dearborn Heights police must stop their discriminatory conduct against Arab Americans. We are taking this very seriously. Arab Americans are fed up with the numerous, continuous citations against them, yet when they look at their counterparts, non-Arab Americans, they don’t receive the same kind of treatment.”
Ayad linked the situation in Dearborn Heights to the growing national debate about the police treatment of minorities.
The civil rights attorney highlighted that Dearborn Heights recently hired its first Arab American police officer. He said 60 percent of the city’s population is Arab American.
The U.S. Census considers Arabs White. Hence, there are no official data about the size of America’s Arab population.
“They just don’t get it,” Ayad said of the Dearborn Heights police. “They just don’t want to fall on the right side of history. A lot of Arab American individuals can’t even drive outside their neighborhoods without getting two or three tickets slapped on them, whether they’re picking up your kids from school or driving to the grocery store. The community has had enough.”
Souad and Fakhrieh said they feel scared every time they see the neighbor. Their father was brought to tears when they mentioned their fear.
The lawsuit accuses the Dearborn Heights Police of violating the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which provides that “no state shall… deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection under the law.”
Dearborn Heights city attorney Gary Miotke said the city has not seen the lawsuit and thus cannot comment on it.
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