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Lauren E. Bohn and Paul Schott/MEDILL

The Chicago Arab-American community attends "Staying Gang and Drug-Free," a seminar for Arab youth, ages 10 to 15.

Blight of street crime creeping into Arab-American community

by Lauren E. Bohn and Paul Schott
Nov 17, 2009

The conversation on youth violence in Chicago after the beating death of Derrion Albert has centered on outreach to black and Latino communities. However, the pervasive blight of guns, drugs and gangs also afflicts Chicago’s Arab-American community.

“Really we've only begun touching on some of these issues as a community,” said Ramah Kudaimi, outreach coordinator at the Arab-American Action Network.

The community is now mobilizing to stem gang-related violence among its youth.

On Saturday, three groups – the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Arab Affairs, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategies office and the Arab-American Police Association – hosted “Staying Gang and Drug-Free,” a seminar for Arab kids ages 10 to 15.

Assessing the scope of the issues in the community is difficult. The Chicago Police Department does not officially track Arab-American crime because Arab-Americans are not a legally recognized racial or ethnic minority.

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, persons from the Middle East and North Africa, like those of European descent, are classified as white.

Even without the aid of statistics, Nizar Hasan, president of the Arab-American Police Association, believes Arab-American youth are increasingly at risk.

“It’s getting worse,” he said. “Some of these kids first try [drugs], get hooked, want more and look for ways to make money to support their habit, which means criminal activity.”

Hasan adds that the organization is planning similar outreach efforts in the future. He stresses there is a continuing need for positive Arab-American role models.

“We need more mentors,” he said. “Many of the parents aren’t involved in their children’s lives. These kids, like many others, need to stay busy whether it’s with sports or community involvement.”