Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Owners of apartment building complex accuse Oak Lawn village officials of racism and discrimination

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The owners of three large apartment buildings in Oak Lawn off of 95th and Harlem Avenue accused the Village Manager of Oak Lawn, Larry Deetjen, of discriminatory practices and harassment. The owners charged at a public meeting of the Oak Lawn Village Board Tuesday Sept. 22, 2009, that the village began cracking down on them right after Deetjen became village manager. They said the issue was the  population of their buildings which are 40 percent Black, 20 percent Arab, 20 percent Hispanic and 20 percent White. Oak lawn is a predominantly White community and the apartment complex represents the heart of the suburban village's minority concentration.

Deetjen sat through the public session at the beginning of the board meeting without comment, but he was defended by Village Trustee Robert Streit who launched into a tirade against the two owners telling them that their tenants -- 84 families -- have drawn police calls 366 times over the last two years involving everything from drug abuse, domestic violence, gang fights and a long laundry list of crimes.

I was shocked to hear Streit's attack, mainly because:

1 -- the owners said the village was upset with them and cited them with numerous building code violations (that are not even listed on the village code books by the way) because the minority population has increased significantly at the buildings since they purchased them almost four years ago.

2 -- Streit did not address the alleged code violations which INVOLVE THE BUILDING but instead focused on the type of people who live in their buildings, outlining the alleged misconduct of the tenants (which the owners of the building have no control over) and saying people like that are unwanted in Oak Lawn.


I will have a story in next week's Southwest News-Herald column and will post a transcript of the verbal back-and-forth.

Streit also denounced the owners who live in Countryside as "absentee landlords" (does Streit do all of his business in Oak lawn or is he an absentee business owner?) And Streit denounced them for waiting 18 months to complain about the alleged verbal altercation that took place with Deetjen.

In an interview before the meeting, the owners said they were moved to come forward after reading about instances of racial discrimination against American Arab grocery store owner Naim Massad at 103rd and Central Avenue, whose store was harassed for two years by the village and was shut down including on July 15 when he was falsely accused of operating his store under a village order to be shut. It was falsely alleged that Massad had a sign on his window in Arabic that told Arab customers the store was closed and they should go to the back of the store to buy store items.

Massad was arrested -- not for the violation of the closing order but for allegedly putting food in an unsanitary vacant store next door -- and so was his wife and son. Massad accused the police who arrested him of denouncing his Arab heritage in vulgar terms.

Police have since reported that the evidence in the case, including the alleged sign in Arabic, was throw out and is no longer in police custody. Police took the sign as evidence but later discovered that the sign in Arabic only said that his store was "closed."

And during the dispatching of police to the store -- because of the Arabic sign and complaint -- the police officer told the dispatcher they were going to "shut down an Arab store owner."

I'll have more on the latest incident of discrimination in my next column in the Southwest News-Herald newspaper (


Dr Linda Shelton said...

Over the years, since I moved to Oak Lawn in 1961, I have witnessed extensive racism and corruption. I believe everything you say and I am shocked at Trustee Streit's comments. The apartment owners have no control over the behavior of their tenants. They would be charged with discrimination if they refused to rent to them. The comments by the trustee are wholly inappropriate.

Ray said...

Story on incident in Southtown Thursday Sept. 24, 2009 ... put the link together to display

Ray Hanania