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Killing Spurs Boycott, Tensions Between Blacks and Arabs

March 18, 1991

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Blacks are boycotting an Arab-owned store to protest the killing of a customer by the butcher, worsening relations already strained by black anger over growing Arab-American control of inner city groceries here.

The feud was touched off by the shooting Jan. 19 of Michael Anderson, 20, a black father of four who was shot by his own gun during a scuffle with an Arab-American butcher at Mother’s Food Market.

A coroner’s inquest recommended no charges be filed against the butcher after witnesses disagreed on which man was the aggressor.

Blacks have since boycotted the store and organized protests outside it, even though the butcher quit working there. They say the effort is rooted in a belief that Arab immigrants are funneling profits out of the inner city through their stores.

The Milwaukee dispute is the latest of many conflicts around the nation between urban blacks and the shopowners who either serve or exploit them, depending on one’s point of view.

In New York City, protesters demonstrated for more than a year in front of a Brooklyn grocery whose Korean owner was tried - and acquitted - of hitting a black customer.

Milwaukee’s Arab-Americans, many of whom live on the south side, have opened dozens of grocery stores on the north side since the early 1980s. In one of the three north-side districts they now operate 21 of 34 licensed stores.

″The Arabs don’t put anything back here,″ said Queen Hyler, an anti-crime activist who has won praise from President Bush for her work in Milwaukee’s black community. ″They’re not involved in the community and not concerned about the problems around it.″

But some store owners said they are the victims of anti-Arab sentiment from the Persian Gulf War and jealousy about their success on the city’s mostly black, poor north side.

″They think all the money is ours,″ said Mike Eastley, 26, a Palestinian manager of a small inner city grocery store. ″They don’t think we have bills, they don’t think we send money back home, they don’t think we have to support anyone. They think it’s like drug money.″

Since Anderson’s death, family members have organized a boycott and about 10 people protest in front of the store several times a week.

One night, the store was damaged by a firebomb. A letter accompanying the bomb said the store was being punished for actions that were ″unexcusable and un-Islamic.″

Anderson’s aunt, Betty Glosson, said she believes the boycott is effective and may be extended to other Arab-American stores. She declined to say how many people were involved.

For the boycott to end, Arab grocers must demonstrate a greater concern for the community and greater regard for the customers, organizers said.

″The Arabs here who own the grocery stores and service stations lack a respect for African-Americans. I have a feeling that they view us as second- class citizens,″ said James Mitchell, director of a community group that works with gangs in Milwaukee.

Several black customers who ignored the boycott to shop at the store, however, said they were angry about the killing but believe owner Adel Kheireh has treated customers well.

″He’s good to people,″ said Debbie Herman, 32. ″If you’re short, he’ll wait until you get food stamps or until the end of the month.″

Kheireh said his store has been a positive force in the community. The store has extended credit to as many as 50 patrons, whose bills now run into the hundreds of dollars, he said.

Five of the store’s eight employees are black, as well as nearly all the customers, and the store has donated money to several neighborhood endeavors, he noted.

″We did not stay here for 10 years and be bad to people,″ Kheireh said. ″We are good to our customers and they appreciate us.″

The Arab-American Business Association, which represents 80 Arab businesses, is meeting with community groups and churches in hopes of diffusing tensions.

The group wants to sponsor projects that bring the two ethnic groups together, president Danny Ahmad said.

″We’re learning,″ Ahmad said. ″Most of us don’t have experience with the American way of life and we’re trying to adjust and get involved.″

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