Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=148241
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Hate crimes against Muslims hit ‘Midwest Americana’ in Tinley Park

by Lauren E. Bohn
Nov 19, 2009


South suburban Tinley Park is the consummate sliver of “real Midwest Americana,” according to village President Ed Zabrocki. It’s not a town, he explains, but a village.

“I don’t want to sound homesy or folksy,” he said, “but there’s a certain concept attached to that: People know one another other here, they feel comfortable.”

Supporting Zabrocki’s view, on Wednesday BusinessWeek magazine named Tinley Park as the best place in the U.S. to raise a family.

But it has also been the scene of two recent incidents targeting Muslims.

Two days after the Fort Hood shootings, a Tinley Park woman allegedly yanked the head scarf off a local Muslim woman and made derogatory comments. A day later, a Muslim family found derogatory graffiti on their Tinley Park home.

In the first incident, police said Valerie Kenney, 54, made hateful comments about Islam before she walked up behind Amal Abusumayah and attempted to pull off her hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women.

Kenney was charged with a hate crime on Wednesday and was released on $5,000 bail. The charge against her is a felony, which carries a possible penalty of one to three years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. She is due back in court Dec. 3.

Police are still investigating the second incident, Tinley Park Police Cmdr. Pat McCain said.

Chicago’s Muslim community anticipated the backlash, even in a now nationally recognized bastion of family values.

“This is exactly the type of thing we worried about happening,” said Christina Abraham, civil rights director of CAIR’s Chicago chapter.

“Usually after incidents like Fort Hood, there tends to be a spike in hate crimes,” she said. “Current events cause people to act out in bigotry.”

“Attacking our headscarf is essentially trampling on the pride that we hold so dear,” said Amina Sharif of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Chicago chapter. “An attack on the hijab is an attack on dignity and faith of God.”

Abusumayah was born in the United States and raised in Berwyn by parents who had immigrated from Palestine.


Initially, police and the Islamic council said Abusumayah didn’t want to press charges.

“Though we encouraged Abusumayah to press charges the night of the incident, we respected her wishes,” McCain said.

By Monday, Abusumayah – with the support of her family and mosque -- was ready to do so.

“There’s a certain shame in reporting these incidents when society already casts Muslims and Arabs in a ridiculously negative light” said Ray Hanania, host of "Mornings with Ray Hanania" on radio station WJJG-AM and author of “Arabs of Chicagoland."

Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab-American bigotry isn't a recent development.

A Pew Research Center survey released in September found that Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than any other major religious group. The poll also found that two-thirds of non-Muslims – 65 percent – say Islam and their own faith are either very different or somewhat different, while just 17 percent take the view that Islam and their own religion are somewhat or very similar.

“More Muslim women like Abusumayah need to speak up,” said Sharif. “If you keep quiet, the bigotry will only continue.”