Michigan, USA – Chaldean business owners are disappointed over continued efforts to stain independent grocers. “This is bad. These people don’t speak for us. Our produce and foods are fresh. This is just another way to take money from stores owners and give them nothing in return,” says Kamal Dally, owner of Riverside Liquor in Detroit.
Dally is upset over an initiative announced at a private business meeting among Chaldeans, under the approving eye of Detroit’s new Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. that Chaldean store owners be asked to join a “Guaranteed Fresh” campaign for their stores.
Dally, and many other business owners feel the business group sold-out the Chaldean business community to gain political points with the new mayor and raise money for their own pet projects. “They don’t care about Chaldean businesses. All they care about is using the community name to take money from those who work so they can play golf,” says Dally’s son Thomas. “Why didn’t they propose the city start a ‘Guarantee Response’ from the police every time a Chaldean store calls for help during an armed robbery or theft?
Cockrel’s attempt to reassure Chaldean independent grocers that safety will be a priority in the city failed to convince the businessmen. Cockrel said that James Barren, the new police chief, is working to reduce police response time.
Tom Dally doesn’t buy the promise. “Why can’t the city guarantee a response time or at least share with business owners what crime is occurring around their businesses.”
The city of Detroit continues to refuse to voluntarily produce crime reports that would help residence and neighborhood businesses better protect themselves. Instead city leaders force businesses to file lawsuits or FOIA requests to see how much crime is happening in their area. A process that many Chaldeans say takes forever or labels your business for harassment by authorities.
Tom says, “The city is all about cover-ups and blaming other people. Just look at the last mayor. It is all about covering up and doing nothing for residents or small businesses that are keeping this city alive. The last mayor also blamed Chaldeans and harassed them, now the new mayor is following in his foot steps.”
The Dally family, like many other Chaldean businesses are refusing to be part of any program that will discriminate against Chaldeans, charge them additional money with little or no reciprocating promises from the city. Nonetheless, a small group of Chaldean businesses have caved in to the pressure of the “Guaranteed Fresh” label. The store label, for starters will cost Chaldean store owners $1,000 to purchase, with possible increases in the near future.
A frustrated Dally says, “How about restaurants in the city? Why do they always pick on Chaldeans. They want us to pay $1,000 for us to put up a sticker on our door that says we offer fresh produce. This is all about pushing Chaldeans out of the city. Just like what is happening in Iraq. They want to force Chaldeans out of their city.”
Tom Dally calls the charge another pseudo tax targeting Chaldeans. “What really burns me is that this is being proposed or supported by any Chaldean. They are hurting their own community. They must be getting something out of this, but to sell-out your own people is sad, just sad. They could have done this whole thing without charging a store owner one dollar. Instead, they want to charge a thousand. All they really want is the money. They don’t care to help the city, the businesses in the city, or any of us that live in the city.”
Chaldean accountant Hikmed Shina says, “The charge of $1,000 is coming from a Chaldean group and is a voluntary charge for the business. Store owners are not required to be part of the program and it is not government run, so it can not be considered a tax.”
Shina agrees with the Dally family that businesses will more than likely face increased harassment by city officials if they don’t participate. “I wouldn’t be surprised of health inspectors and police officers focused more on Chaldean businesses that did not have the label than those who did,” says Shina. “It would be interesting to know who will set the standards and why this is coming out from a group outside of the city. The city could easily run this type of program for all stores and restaurants in the city and not just Chaldeans.”
Some Chaldean business owners point to how the excess money is proposed as proof of discrimination. Some say this is a collaborative effort between the new mayor and small group of business members, many of which don’t have businesses in the city, as a way to get more money out of Chaldean small businesses in the city or push them out. The talk is that the “interim” Mayor Cockrel will have to raise lots of money to challenge a host of contenders for the upcoming Mayoral election.
The Chaldean business group plans to use the excess funds they collect to help Detroit’s Angels’ Night which provides a sort of cover and slush fund for the group and city officials. Many Chaldeans are asking why the excess funds would not be used to help businesses improve. Suggestions by community leaders have long called for a Chaldean business legal defense fund, or fund projects that would build greater cooperation and respect from the police department and city offices as to the challenges faced by Chaldean small businesses.
“We have stores in the city that spend over millions helping city churches, little league teams, giving loans to neighbors, free food on holidays, and we stayed with the city when all the major chain grocers left town,” says Kamal Dally. “This is how they reward us, by making us look like we are the bad people, they insult us by saying grocers sell bad produce, and say we take their money and run.”
When asked how he would have liked the Chaldean business group to respond, Kamal Dally answers, “ I would like them to tell the truth and correct the city when they pass rumors about Chaldean businesses. Ask them to show the proof. How many stores, restaurants, and markets do they inspect. They should defend small businesses against discrimination by the city and stop the lies. Instead they want to sell us a sticker for a thousand dollars so we won’t be bothered by the city. This is not right.”