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Flanked by fellow Arab business owners, American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland President Hassan Abdallah accused the Lightfoot Administration of actions he and others consider bigoted. --Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

Flanked by fellow Arab business owners, American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland President Hassan Abdallah accused the Lightfoot Administration of actions he and others consider bigoted. --Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

Arab business owners accuse mayor of bigotry

Lightfoot unfairly shutting gas stations, they say

By Tim Hadac and Jeff Vorva

It’s not every day that Mayor Lori Lightfoot is likened to former President Donald Trump, but that’s what happened earlier this week as more than a dozen independent gas station owners essentially accused her of anti-Arab bigotry.

Business owners gathered at a press conference at Falcon Fuel, 7858 S. Western, a gas station shuttered by the Lightfoot Administration back in July over building code violations.

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Flanked by fellow Arab business owners, American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland President Hassan Abdallah accused the Lightfoot Administration of actions he and others consider bigoted. –Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Tim Hadac

Lightfoot, like Mayors Emanuel and Daley before her, uses a multi-agency task force to lean on so-called “problem” businesses allegedly associated with criminal activity like drug dealing, prostitution and more. The task force typically uses municipal law to issue and citations and shut down businesses they target.

The owners at the press conference said Lightfoot is targeting Arab business owners, although they offered no data to back up the claim.

They said they staged the press conference around the 9/11 anniversary to show that anti-Arab bigotry is still a menace to society, perhaps especially in City Hall—and they likened her attitude to that of Trump and his supporters, some of whom rioted at the Capitol earlier this year.

The press conference at 79th and Western followed one held last week in Bridgeview, where the same grievances were aired.

“The code violations range from the ridiculous to the frivolous and clearly are intended only to create a cause to justify the forced closure of our gas stations and grocery stores,” reads a letter to a number of aldermen whose wards are home to gas stations that have been shuttered.

Owners say they have been told by inspectors that shutting their businesses down would discourage gang violence. Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland, said these businesses are not the cause of gang violence.

“We want to find out what’s going on and why they are doing this,” he said. “Why are they harassing them? We are hearing a lot of horror stories about the inspectors and the task force coming to shut them down for months and months.

“I wish our mayor would listen to us and do something about it. Revenue and jobs are being lost. Everybody loses in this. The city, the county and the state.”

Hassan Abdallah, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland, said he hopes Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s task force will stop targeting gas station owners. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Saad Malley, who said he has been an owner since 1979, said this “reeks of racism.” What also angers him about this situation is that stations and stores were open during the pandemic and provided essential services.

“I say shame on the city to target us,” Malley said. “The essential businesses that stood during that pandemic putting our lives and health at risk are being targeted.”

Group members say the pattern is the same. The inspectors come on Friday afternoon and make their determinations and the businesses have to close down for at least the weekend.

“It is their intention to close as many places as can,” said Mohammed Abdallah, who had three of his 11 stations close. “When they come, they bring a lot of cars and police. It’s like a crime scene or a drug raid.”

Shihdeh Abu-Khalil said he has been a gas station owner for 30 years and does not like this recent treatment.

“This is my city,” he said. “When I travel abroad, when they ask me where I am from, I don’t say I’m from America or Illinois, I say I’m from Chicago.

“I love Chicago. We do a service for the community. So, for the city to come and shut us down, is not fair and it’s not just.”

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