08-08-09 What did an Arab grocer do to be arrested in suburban Chicago?

Racism, fears and conflict in Oak Lawn
By Ray Hanania —
(Oak Lawn, Illinois) — What exactly did Naim Massad do to justify being arrested, handcuffed and dragged to jail by police on the orders of an Oak Lawn Village building inspector?It was a scene that provoked his wife and teenage son into fearful emotion that the inspector, Jeanne Foody Galzin, and Police Officer M. Lupa then used to justify arresting, handcuffing and taking them to jail too? How does that happen in America, the same week that the nation is reeling from a similar confrontation between Cambridge Police Officer James Crowley and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates that drew in the attention and comments of President Barack Obama?

I’ve covered politics in the Chicagoland area for 32 years and I have never seen a more abusive situation.

What was the charge? His store “was unsanitary.” If that’s the case, maybe we should just start rounding up every store owner in Oak Lawn.

Is it because of Massad’s Arab ethnicity or Muslim religion? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell even as we approach the eight year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that sparked a wave of anti-Arab harassment across this nation.

Racism is never easy to pin down. It’s more sophisticated these days.

Galzin has been singling Massad out for nearly two years with nitpicking building code violations as some other store owners in the mall, which was bought up by another Arab and Muslim, cheered her on. Galzin insists that the issues are not petty and she has a pile of violation records.

Is it simply a case of a village building inspector throwing around her clout and power against someone with a heavy accent who many of the other store owners – all her friends — seem to dislike? Or someone protecting babies from being poisoned as she argued.

Galzin painted an entirely different picture, obviously, one of a person whose grocery habits are a threat to public health. (She even noted she was good friends of my mother, before my mother died in 1985.)

I went to the store to meet the Massad family. I met the owner’s wife, Susan. What a pleasant lady. Kind. Soft spoken. She looked as Italian and Greek as she is Arab. She had a huge smile and she gave me a tour of a huge grocery store that despite being ravaged by the village inspectors and police, was spotless.

I can imagine Police Officer M. Lupa grabbing Susaznne, arresting and handcuffing her for “battery.” Just as I can imagine the Massads’ claims that Lupa allegedly spewed a litany of ugly and vicious anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism against the Massad’s during the inspector’s assault of their store.

Is the store unsanitary? That store is so clean I’d eat off the floor. In fact, it’s cleaner than most stores I visited, including a few in that same strip mall that are probably not as high on Galzin’s radar screen.

When I submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information on the incident, I got complete cooperation and openness from Mayor Dave Heilmann and Police Chief William Villanova.

It’s hard to make judgments about anyone based on one incident, even one that has been going on for nearly two years. But I do know politics and government. They both have compelling claims.

But in politics, when it comes to inspectors, if you are on their good side, they cut you all kinds of slack. If you’re not, they’ll do everything to destroy you.

All I know is that in this America, you don’t treat people like that.

(Originally published in the Southwest News-Herald Newspaper, August 7, 2009)

Categories: General Topics

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