Dearborn Heights City Clerk Facing Allegations of Misconduct Toward Arab American Voters Backpeddles Resignation
Advocacy groups to monitor polls in Dearborn Heights
Dearborn Heights— Advocacy groups said Saturday they would provide poll monitors and a hotline to report complications during the primary election after allegations of voter suppression in Dearborn Heights.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and other coalition groups have set up a hotline, (866) OUR-VOTE, voters can call if there are any problems on Election Day on Tuesday. The move comes after advocates say they have lost faith in the state government to handle the claims of voter suppression.
“Sadly, and what seems to be the case today, the number one response historically to valid claims of voter suppression is the all-too-common story of voter fraud,” ADC Michigan director Fatina Abdrabboh said at a press conference outside the Dearborn Heights city hall. “The claims of voter fraud were levied just yesterday, and weeks after the claims were brought to the ADC office.”
City Clerk Walter Prusiewicz issued a statement Saturday in response to the allegations against him.
“I will not comment further on any of these attacks that have been made against me except to say that I have done nothing wrong and I welcome any oversight by the state of my actions and the upcoming election and any investigation into my conduct at city clerk,” his statement said. “I have nothing to hide and I firmly believe that any investigation will conclude that I did nothing more than properly discharge my duties as the Dearborn Heights city clerk.”
A letter from Sally Williams, director of the Election Liaison Division at the Michigan Bureau of Elections, addressing the concerns of the ADC and other groups was issued Friday. In the letter, Williams says it is “not possible for us to confirm whether violations have occurred.”
“While the clerk indicates that there have been delays in processing due to the large numbers of applications that have been delivered in multiple batches, he contends that ballots for all eligible voters who requested (absentee voter) ballots have been distributed,” the letter says.
Last week, the ADC’s Michigan office said Arab-American voters were prevented from obtaining absentee ballots. The claims sparked outrage from the community and calls to remove Prusiewicz. ADC Michigan also is seeking an investigation.
This week, Prusiewicz reported to the state attorney general, Michigan Bureau of Elections and the Wayne County prosecutor what he described as potential voter fraud and campaign irregularities involving about 250 absentee ballot applications dropped off at his office. In the letter, he said both batches were from men who appeared associated with the campaign of state Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, who is running for the 5th Senate District seat in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Prusiewicz also acknowledged that the applicants “appear to be of Arab American descent.”
It is illegal to solicit voters to fill out absentee ballot applications in the same manner voter registration drives are conducted, state officials said.
Based on the information presented by ADC Michigan and Prusiewicz, “it appears clear that hundreds of (absentee voter) ballot requests have been illegally handled, solicited from voters, and submitted to the clerk’s office by a small number of individuals,” Williams wrote in her letter Friday. “The investigation of these issues is ongoing and may result in criminal charges against those involved.”
Williams also said the bureau would have staff monitor part of the election in the city on Tuesday and takes any allegations of wrongdoing “very seriously.” Clear violations would be referred to the attorney general or other appropriate authorities, she wrote.
Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, has said state officials were reviewing Prusiewicz’s complaint.
Knezek issued a statement denying his campaign’s involvement and said the clerk’s allegations were “an attempt to damage my credibility on the eve of a major election.” He added Friday that he welcomes an investigation and “I look forward to cooperating every step of the way.”
Meanwhile, civil rights and advocacy groups remain wary of alleged discrimination and are asking federal authorities to take action.
On Saturday, Abdrabboh was joined by Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nabih Ayad, chair of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, Bishop Walter Starghill, from the Western Wayne branch of the NAACP, and community members who say they have been denied the opportunity to vote.
“My husband and I submitted for our absentee ballots two weeks ago,” said Lola Elzein, “I got mine in two days — note my name is Lola — while my husband Wissam hasn’t still hasn’t received his.”
The two are going out of town tomorrow, which means her husband will not have an opportunity to vote in the election, she said.
Angela Moughni, a 13-year resident of Dearborn Heights, voted absentee five minutes before the press conference began Saturday. Prior to that, she had received a letter saying her signature on her petition for an absentee voter ballot did not match city records, so she was denied. Her mother, who also tried to get an absentee ballot, received a similar letter, except that hers said her address did not match the one the city has on file. The family has not moved from their house and her mother has voted in plenty of other elections in the past with the same address, said Moughani.
“You just start to have doubts about what is going on, said Moughni. “You just don’t expect this to happen today. It’s 2014, you’d think we be beyond this.”
Today’s khutbah was given at Masjid As-Salam (Al-Awwal) in Detroit.
JUL 24, 2014, 1:00 PM
Ted Wafer’s trial, and why race matters in jury selection
Jury selection concluded yesterday for the upcoming trial of Ted Wafer, who fatally shot unarmed teenager Renisha McBride last year in Dearborn Heights.
We should not prognosticate on how the trial will end, but we do know that ethnic make-ups of juries in general can and does influence verdicts in our courtrooms. Regarding jury make-up, let’s compare this particular case to another high profile case pertaining to a non-black shooter with a black fatality.
The case of Wafer, who is white and fatally shot McBride, who was black and wearing a hoodie, can, on its face, compared to the case of George Zimmerman, who also killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, who was also wearing a hoodie.
The jury of the Zimmerman trial comprised zero black jurors. In fact juror B37 stated after the trial that Zimmerman, who followed Martin before confronting and killing him, had the right to use lethal force because he had a reasonable reason to fear Martin.
Jurors, of course, do not make process information on strictly rational basis. Jurors are humans who bring their biases into jury boxes.
When there’s a general fear of black youth who dress a particular way, it stands to reason that non-black jurors would identity more with the self-defense argument, even when the shooter doesn’t flee but actually confronts their eventual target. There is also a common tendency of defense attorneys to disqualify potential black jurors when the perpetrators are white, out of concern that they will identify more with the prosecution’s arguments.
The jury for the Wafer trial, unlike Zimmerman’s, will have four black jurors, two males and two females. This is not to say that this jury will not be hung based upon disagreements, nor does it mean that all of the four black jurors are free from internalized oppression.
What it does mean, however, is that Wafer will be tried by a jury of his peers as well as the peers of the deceased, reflecting the diversity of the community, unlike Zimmerman’s jury, which had no one who looked like or apparently could identify with Martin.
We’ll see how the Wafer trial unfolds. One thing I can say for sure though: I feel better that a just verdict will be given in this case, given the diversity of the jury, more than I would if the jury was exclusively white.
JUL 16, 2014, 4:40 PM
Learning lessons from the anniversary of Bosnian genocide
Bosnian Americans, in recent days, have commemorated the 19th anniversary of the Bosnian genocide in which thousands were slaughtered and tens of thousands were expelled from their land by Serbian forces. Some of those Bosnian refugees were granted asylum in America and now reside in Metro Detroit.
I have a special connection to these naturalized Americans from Bosnia and their children, who were born here because I served in the U.S. military and was deployed in the region in 1995, shortly after the Srebrenica massacre. Almost a decade later, I served temporarily as the imam of the Bosnian American Islamic Center in Hamtramck in which I heard families recap stories of rape and killing that took place.
What I’ve learned from experiencing and hearing the stories of those subjected to wanton violence based upon ethnic and religious affiliations is that entities that stir up such divisions must be immediately confronted with alternative and unifying messages before bloodshed and refugee crisis come as a result of inaction.
Case in point is the recent ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic (CAR) when 800,000 Muslims were driven out by Christian militias in reaction to a coup d’etat led by rebel groups that were predominately, but not exclusively, compromising of Muslims.
The crisis, which brewed for awhile, perhaps could have been averted if dealt with proactively. Since the crisis, human rights groups have accused France and Chad of harboring persons who have committed killings and other human rights abuses relating to ethnic cleansing and retaliation associated to it.
America cannot be the police force of the world via exertions of military force, nor should we ever see ourselves as having this role. We do, however, have the moral obligation to make sure that our government and our allies do not support repressive regimes that sow seeds of division to remain in power.
Unfortunately, we do not have such influence over nations such as Russia that have also supported repressive regimes that have exploited ethnic differences as a means of shoring up power.
There will always be political and religious leaders that foment ethnic and sectarian strife. As we look at ethnic and religiously-based violence that stretches across the globe, from Nigeria to Myanmar, it’s clear that the citizens of the world have not learned the lessons from Bosnia and other genocides which came before.
Thankfully, such is not the case in today in America.
As America may be forced to intervene militarily in some cases as in Bosnia, we have the duty to be opposed to tyranny wherever we see it and promote peaceful solutions to counter those who promote division that may result in mass violence. Perhaps we need to have a Department of Peace as part of our government, outside of the State Department, for such work. It may be cheaper for us in the long term if we had such and probably would avert future situations like Bosnia from taking place.