DEARBORN HEIGHTS — The Arab American community has reached a boiling point with the Dearborn Heights Police Department following a number of incidents where residents claim they were arrested without justification.
This week, a video circulated on social media showing a local Arab American woman being subjected to excessive force and arrested in front of her home, while her children were present.
The woman, who wished to be addressed as “Lena”, told The AANews that she was gardening on Sunday, May 22, at around 2 p.m. when she noticed that police had pulled her husband over down the street from their home.
He had failed to bring his motorcycle to a complete halt at a stop sign.
“It didn’t phase me at first,” Lena said. “The neighbors and I were actually joking about it. They had him pulled over for a good 20 minutes while I was working on the front lawn.”
Lena’s neighbor then noticed that police were in the process of arresting her husband. He had informed an officer that he was carrying a weapon, but when the officer checked his CCW, he discovered it had been suspended.
“At that point, I dropped the hose and I ran over there,” Lena said. “I’m in my slippers and PJs. And I’m running up the street and shouting, ‘Hey, yo, why are you arresting my husband?’ And when I get up there they had him handcuffed.”
Several neighbors heard the commotion and witnessed the altercation. Some of them videotaped the incident on their cell phones.
Lena admitted to using curse words towards the police – along the lines of “What the f*ck is going on here?” But she said she never once threatened them or got in the way while they were arresting her husband.
However, an officer was quick to physically confront her. She said she felt like she was being attacked.
“He started putting his hands on me,” she said. “I told him get off me. He wanted to get my hands behind my back. He didn’t tell me I was being arrested.”
Lena said two police officers slammed her on the ground to cuff her and that one repeatedly pressed his knees against her ribs. She suffered bruises on her arms and along the side of her ribs as a result.
“I said, ‘He’s kneeing me’ and he said, ‘No, I’m not,'” Lena said. “And he started pushing on my ribs even more with his knee.”
A video shows neighbors attempting to intervene by telling the officers, “She didn’t do anything? Why is she being arrested?”
Police told the neighbors to back off. One neighbor told an officer that the couple had young children at home and they would be left unattended if both parents were taken to jail.
“She needs to learn a lesson in how to act like a lady,” the officer replied.
“I didn’t know you couldn’t ask an officer a question without being arrested,” Lena said. “Why couldn’t he talk to me in a different manner and calm me down? Instead, he decided to bully me. I didn’t sleep for two nights after this incident. The way he approached me…I got very defensive and I shut down. I’ve been attacked by men before. I felt like I was being attacked by him.”
The couple was taken to the Dearborn Heights Police Department. Lena was charged and booked with a misdemeanor for “obstructing justice.” She was released on a $100 bond.
Her husband was released without bond and not charged.
Lena cited reckless behavior by the police department and its staff, stating they heckled her family when they asked for a citizen’s complaint form.
She is demanding that Dearborn Heights police officers undergo sensitivity training, noting that they are out of touch with their mission to protect and serve the community.
“I think they are protecting and serving their egos,” she said. “To me, a police officer of the community should have a calm demeanor and make someone feel safe, not make them feel defensive. You protect and serve, not hurt. The way you talk to someone makes a difference.”
Lena said home invasions, larceny and theft are too common in the city, but Dearborn Heights police remain fixated on issuing petty tickets to drivers instead of catching criminals. She said both her vehicle and that of her neighbor were broken into on numerous occasions, but police handled the incidents poorly.
In a phone interview with The AANews, Dearborn Heights Police Chief Lee Gavin said he hadn’t seen the video of the arrest, but added that a judge will determine the outcome of Lena’s case.
“I can’t say what she did was right or wrong,” Chief Gavin said. “I wasn’t there and I haven’t seen the video. It’s going to be up to a judge to determine whether there was evidence there to arrest her.”
‘Why am I being arrested?’
In recent months, many citizens have cried foul against the Police Department, citing unjustified arrests.
Last month, a local man was taking his 8-months pregnant wife to the hospital when police pulled him over and arrested him for an unpaid ticket. His wife had to catch another ride to the hospital.
Hussein Dabajeh, a local activist and businessman in Dearborn Heights, told The AANews he was recently pulled over on Ford Road for disregarding a “no turn on red” sign.
Before he knew it, he was in a jail cell due to a system error that stated his license had been suspended. He recalled Dearborn Heights police being determined to arrest him, even though he was certain it was a mistake.
“Focus on protecting and serving the community instead of harassing the community,” Dabajeh said. “They spend too much times on their speed traps and not enough time on doing what they are supposed to be doing.”
Residents often complain that they are racially profiled and targeted while driving in northern Dearborn Heights.
Councilman Dave Abdallah told The AANews that in recent weeks he had received numerous complaints from residents regarding police issuing an unprecedented amount of tickets.
Abdallah recently met with Chief Gavin to address their concerns.
“I’ve had a few different people approach me with what they feel is a disproportionate amount of ticketing,” Abdallah said. “They feel there is not enough presence in the neighborhoods and policing at the schools. Instead there appears to be a focus on ticketing.”
However, Abdallah said Gavin has increased patrolling near the Telegraph and Ford Road area because in the last 18 months there had been a series of car accidents resulting in five fatalities.
He noted the area has a large concentration of Arab American residents, thus they may be more likely to get pulled over.
“When they are focused on the light and the lasers, they can’t tell what the ethnicity of the person is,” Abdallah said. “They aren’t necessarily targeting anyone, but they will get more Arab Americans because they happen to be there.”
Abdallah also cited a lack of Arab officers on the police force. He said the Dearborn Heights Police Department has had difficulty hiring qualified individuals from the community. Many also pass on taking the job because they feel they can be hired in at another department for a higher salary.
He also said officers might not be culturally in-tune with their surroundings, saying the lack of sensitivity could be because there are few Arab officers on the force.
“It may be due to a case of lack of education,” Abdallah said. “They might not understand that you shouldn’t touch a Muslim woman. That falls back on hiring more Arab Americans to educate the police force.”
Gavin told The AANews that the Police Department traditionally steps up its patrolling at the beginning of the summer.
“We often see it with the warm weather, the increase in traffic and speed,” he said. “With the summer and Ramadan coming, there are more violations out there. Officers are seeing the violations and writing tickets. When they make traffic stops, that’s how you catch people who have warrants.”
Gavin said the number of tickets the city issues is in the same ball park as surrounding cities. He denied that police officers are racially profiling Arab Americans.
“We often get these complaints that we are profiling,” Gavin said. “But those are myths. We all live here and every day you see people who are driving erratically. There just happens to be more offenses with the weather getting warmer.”