Local businesses report harassment since Election Day

The Star stopped by two local businesses on Friday where there have been reports of real or perceived racial or religious harassment following the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States. KC River Market customers continue sh
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The Star stopped by two local businesses on Friday where there have been reports of real or perceived racial or religious harassment following the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States. KC River Market customers continue sh
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Hate speech and harassment rebuked in Kansas City and on area college campuses

By Mará Rose Williams

mdwilliams@kcstar.com

November 18, 2016 06:51 PM

Noon foot traffic at the Al Habashi Mart in the Kansas City River Market on Friday was fairly steady.

Customers lined up to buy their weekend supply of fresh pita bread and other Mediterranean foods and spices.

Behind the cash register Ahmad Alhabashi smiled, joked and chatted with regulars — and took a stand against hateful threats that had been hurled at him and his brother this week.

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Alhabashi, who has run the Mediterranean grocery with his brother for nearly 30 years. “This is my home.”

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Alhabashi said that on Wednesday afternoon, an unidentified man flung open the store’s door, poked his head inside and yelled, “White power,” at his brother, who was working the register at the time.

Alhabashi is one of several Kansas City-area business owners and individuals who reported being harassed over the last week-and-a-half, since Donald J. Trump was elected president. He reported the incident to River Market management but not to police.

And this week at area college campuses, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Central Missouri and at Kansas State University, administrators and student leaders have put out electronic messages encouraging students and faculty to be respectful toward one another after several incidents of hateful name-calling and vandalism occurred following the election.

Across the country, tensions have increased between Trump critics and Trump supporters, with many expressing fears of bigotry and racial violence against minorities,

The Southern Poverty Law Center this week said it counted about 400 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation across the U.S. since Election Day.

In the Kansas City area, reports surfaced Friday on social media that a window of a Kansas City Mediterranean restaurant near the UMKC campus had been shattered Wednesday night. Students, who were not sure whether the incident was intentional or accidental, took to social media and called for people to support the Sahara restaurant and have lunch there Friday.

By noon, the Sahara restaurant on 51st Street was busy.

“We just wanted people to show up there to show them that we support them,” said Camila Rivera, a UMKC student working at the Multicultural Student Affairs office. “We have a lot of international students here on campus, and we support them.”

Restaurant owners declined to talk with The Star about the broken window, which workers there said was not reported to police.

Moussa Elbayoumy, who chairs the board for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Kansas City, said they had heard about the broken window but were unsure of a motive behind it.

“We are hearing scattered reports from different members of the community, and the alarming part is that many are reluctant to report to police because they are afraid of backlash,” Elbayoumy said. He said CAIR has received daily reports of harassment since the election.

Mart owner Alhabashi said he’s worried about the national climate because “there is a lot of tension. I can feel it,” he said, adding that he remembers feeling similarly after the 9/11  attacks. He said his niece at the Metropolitan Community College-Longview in Lee’s Summit was told by another student there that now that Trump is president, “we will get rid of all you Muslims.

“Yes, I am worried,” Alhabashi said.

But Elbayoumy said the Kansas City Muslim community is getting support from interfaith organizations and many caring citizens.

When Emily Frost, a Park University teacher in training from Roeland Park, heard that the owners of Al-Habashi, one of her favorite spots, had been harassed, she made a point to shop there on her lunch break Friday.

“We go there anyway,” Frost said. “I’ve been going for years. But I figured, why not go and buy a few more Jordan Almonds to show our love and support?”

Some students at UMKC also reported being harassed.

And when the business administration manager at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management learned about it, she sent an email on Wednesday alerting the campus community that several international students had reported being harassed off campus and included a list of on-campus offices where such incidents could be reported.

“We have had a number of concerns brought to our office regarding students and staff being harassed over the past week or so off campus,” Mary Morgan wrote in the UMKC email. “The key is to be vigilant and to ensure that our students, staff and faculty have a working environment that is safe, respectful and inclusive.”

University officials have said they won’t tolerate hateful harassment.

After derogatory chalk scribblings were discovered on pavement at Kansas State University following the election, student body president Jessica Van Ranken and vice president Trenton Kennedy issued a memo pleading that students be respectful of one another.

“We don’t want K-State to be a place that condones actions that make people feel lessened,” Van Ranken said. The student government memo was not specific about the what the chalk writings said or what population group they targeted.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc