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Dearborn Police said today they are investigating an alleged bias assault by two white men against an Arab-American Muslim man who was shopping Thursday at a Kroger grocery store in the city.
The incident sparked fears among Arab Americans in Dearborn that they are not safe from bias attacks even in a city that has the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the U.S.
Kathy McMillan Bazzi, 60, of Dearborn told the Free Press that two white men at a Kroger near the corner of Michigan and Greenfield avenues attacked the Arab-American man and taunted his daughter, who wears an Islamic headscarf, or hijab. Bazzi said the pair were passing by the man and his family while making insulting comments about ISIS and Muslims.
Bazzi said the men used derogatory words against the Arab-American man.
"I hear 'ISIS,' I hear 'terrorist,' I hear 'go back to your country' and 'raghead,'" Bazzi said in an interview Friday with the Free Press.
Then, "all of a sudden, the man is punching this Arabic man, fists started flying."
Bazzi, a white convert to Islam who wears a hijab and is a lifelong Dearborn resident, said the Arab-American man tried to defend himself with punches and one of his attackers "got all bloodied."
At one point, the young son of the Arab-American man "tried to jump in," but Bazzi blocked his path to prevent a further escalation. Meanwhile, the young "daughter was hysterical," Bazzi said.
During the attack, she said, an employee of Kroger "came and he grabbed the Arabic guy, and let the ... guys beat on him. They were throwing punches at the Arabic guy."
At 5:57 p.m., Bazzi called 911.
Afterward, the Kroger employee said, " 'Oh, I was just trying to break it up,' " Bazzi said. "But that's not what I saw. He held that guy."
A manager at the Kroger store declined comment Friday evening.
Dearborn Police said in a statement released today: "The incident is currently being thoroughly investigated to determine whether it involves a criminal assault and/or whether it was motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender(s) bias."
Police did not reveal the name of the victims or additional details about the incident.
"The Dearborn Police will make full disclosure of this incident once fully investigated," said Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad. "We have also reached out to our federal and state partners who have agreed to provide any resources deemed appropriate."
Bazzi said it took police 20 minutes to arrive, which concerned her since the Dearborn police station is close by, across the street from the grocery. Dearborn Police said in their statement that both police and fire rescue were at the scene within "three minutes after receiving 911 calls of a fight in progress."
Bazzi and other Muslims have been increasingly anxious lately, especially after the shooting deaths on Tuesday of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C.
She feels uneasy when she's out of Dearborn.
"I don't like to travel outside my comfort zone. When I leave my house, I'm starting to look over my shoulder when I go places," she said. "It's a terrible feeling. I just don't feel secure, even in my own city. I grew up in Dearborn and lived here my whole life."
"It's getting worse every day," she said. "The comments. People look at your scarf, when you're driving down the street."
On Friday, there was a fire at a vacant Islamic school in Houston.
"In light of what has happened with the murders at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and today's burning of a mosque in Houston, it is expected that our community remains on heightened alert," said Fatina Abdrabboh, director of the Michigan chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "We trust and expect that law enforcement will investigate this thoroughly and bring appropriate charges."
Bazzi, who's of Irish descent, grew up in the south end of Dearborn with Arab-American Muslim friends who introduced her to Islam. She said she hopes that the men are charged.
"It's an injustice," she said.