Detroit dollar store torched
not convinced fire was a hate crime
BY SUZETTE HACKNEY
PRESS STAFF WRITER
owner Charlie Suleiman sat in a black sport-utility vehicle Monday morning
and watched as federal agents combed through the pile of flame-licked rubble
that was once a thriving business on the city's east side.
37, owner of Dollar Daze Plus II, at Gratiot and Mapleridge near McNichols,
said the overnight fire that destroyed his store was devastating, but he
an Arab American, won't even allow dark thoughts that suggest his store was
targeted because of his ethnicity. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed. . .
. I cannot imagine that someone would do this intentionally because of who I
am," Suleiman said. "This is not going to shake me. As long as
there is no loss in life, this can all be replaced."
William Dunn of the Detroit Fire Department said he is not convinced the
fire was a hate crime. "I'm not going to assume that that's what
happened, but I'm not ruling it out," Dunn said. "I think the
investigation is going in another direction, though."
Monday afternoon, Detroit Fire Department arson investigators determined
that the fire was caused by arson. Dunn said the strong odor of gasoline was
present inside the business and a Molotov cocktail -- still intact -- was
from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms helped Detroit
officials investigate. About a half-dozen ATF agents crawled through the
site Monday, taking pictures and talking to neighboring business owners.
Detroit Fire Department arson investigators also used a dog to sniff for
accelerants. Vera Fedorak, an ATF spokeswoman, said federal agents collected
samples that will be sent to an ATF lab for analysis. She could not say how
long it will take before the results are received. "If at any time in
our investigation, we determine that the cause of the fire is based on
ethnic intimidation or a hate crime, then we will alert the FBI, and they
will work jointly with us," Fedorak said.
who is Palestinian, owns four other dollar stores in metro Detroit. He said
he has always had an excellent relationship with his customers and did not
have to endure any negative comments following the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. He said he prides himself on the fact that he employs whites,
blacks and Arabs to work in his stores. "It's been nothing but
good," said Suleiman, who lives in Dearborn. "We haven't had any
arguments with customers. Business has stayed the same. Do we have enemies?
merchandise inside the store remained neatly stocked on the shelves Monday,
visible through the broken windows. Part of the roof was caved in from the
blaze. The thick smell of smoke and melted plastic lingered in the air as
customers and employees stopped by to wish Suleiman well.
Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee,
said he echoes Suleiman's prayers that the fire was not related to
ethnicity. "Definitely, business owners in our community and
individuals at large have been going through very hard times by being looked
at differently," Hamad said. "It has affected all aspects of our
lives. "Though we have received tremendous support from other
communities, it is not putting an end to some isolated events here and there
that can be described as a backlash to this tragedy. "I hope that this
is some sort of an accident and has nothing to do with the crisis. I don't
think any act of that nature is something healthy for our society, and I see
it as an act of evil."
Contact SUZETTE HACKNEY at 313-222-6672 or firstname.lastname@example.org.