By Ali Harb | Arab American News
HAMTRAMCK — Not even insurance agents could convince Hamtramck police that the proof of insurance of two detained Yemeni American residents was authentic, a complaint filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights says.
The Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) is calling on the department to investigate the allegedly wrongful arrest of Omar and Mohamed Wassel, who were held in jail for two days after being accused of having fake insurance.
According to the brothers’ account, police towed and impounded Mohamed Wassel’s ice cream truck after sending him a letter stating that he cannot park it in a residential neighborhood. The truck’s license plate was expired. After renewing the registration, he went to the police station with the proper documentation to retrieve the vehicle.
While the brothers waited in line, an officer warned them that they would be arrested if their proof of insurance was fraudulent, Mohamed, 24, said at a press conference on Monday. He added that police subsequently handcuffed him and his brother.
For two days, they did not allow them to call his work, he said.
“We gave him them insurance agents’ number, but they wouldn’t call them,” Mohamed told The AANews. “They handcuffed my brother Omar. I asked them, ‘why are you doing this?’ Then, they arrested me. I was scared. They are the police. They are powerful.”
Asked about the possible motive for the officers’ conduct, he said, “Because we are Arabs, Muslims. They don’t like Arabs there.”
No charges were brought against the brothers.
ACRL founder Nabih Ayad spoke of a pattern of discrimination against Arab residents and businesses in Hamtramck.
“We’ve had numerous issues with the city of Hamtramck,” Ayad said.
He called upon the Police Department to revise its policies and implement sensitivity training.
“They need to understand the sensitivities and diversity there,” Ayad said. “They can’t take advantage of an individual, whether they don’t speak English very well or because they’re from a vulnerable community and can’t defend themselves.”
The ACRL founder said officers could have easily solved the situation by calling the insurance company to check if Wassel’s policy was valid.
He added that the insurance agents who went to the station to confirm the validity of the policy had no personal interest in the matter and should have been believed.
“The fact that city of Hamtramck Police Department did not issue any reasoning for holding them, didn’t charge them with anything, no warrant was issued… that shows a lot about their conduct,” Ayad said.
Hamtramck, which is bordered by Detroit on almost all sides, has the highest concentration of immigrants in Michigan. It is the first American city to elect a Muslim majority city council. But the Police Department is still mostly White.
“ACRL has always called for police departments to be reflective of the communities that they serve,” said Nasser Beydoun, the executive director of the ACRL. “You have a predominantly White police department that’s policing a very diverse ethnic community. That’s nothing but a formula for trouble.”
Beydoun said the civil rights organization decided to file a complaint with the Department of Civil Rights instead of suing the city because the ACRL does not want the predominantly Arab and Muslim residents to pay for the lawsuit.
“The issue here is how do we get a police department to represent their community and not punish the citizens of the city,” Beydoun said. “It’s the Police Department that’s the issue and they have to look at their policies and procedures; and that’s what we want to force.”