Muslim civil rights group calls for bias probe into Neighborhood Market vandalism
An immigrant-owned Sioux Falls business was repeatedly victimized by break-ins and vandalism. The Council on American-Islamic Relations wants to know if the crimes were motivated by bias.
SIOUX FALLS — A national organization for Muslim civil rights is calling for a deeper investigation to determine if repeated acts of vandalism at an immigrant-owned Sioux Falls business were motivated by bias.
Hayder Hayyawi and Reem Alsulaimawi first opened Neighbood Market, at 4301 E. 12th St., in January 2022. Offering a wide variety of global foods, the business came as an added grocery option for an increasingly diverse Sioux Falls.
However, neither Hayyawi nor Alsulaimawi, both Iraqi immigrants, could have expected the crime that Neighborhood Market would be a victim of throughout its first year in operation.
In March, the business was the victim of a break-in and burglary. Roughly seven months later, in early November, the store was victimized, this time involving a juvenile with a firearm, according to Sioux Falls Public Information Officer Sam Clemens.
And last week, on Dec. 7, as the pair were cleaning up after the business closed for the evening, it would be targeted yet again — this time in a significantly more devastating fashion.
As the glass from the front door crashed, Hayyawi moved to confront the intruder or intruders, but Alsulaimawi pulled him back, the Sioux Falls Business Journal first reported. The two ended up hiding in a walk-in freezer, calling for help. They waited for nearly 10 minutes before they were given the all-clear by Hayyawi’s father.
Pictures posted to Alsulaimawi's Facebook page shows the extent of the damage: Broken glass was scattered in the entryway. Displays were tipped. Products were strewn about the premises. Jars and bottles were shattered. Various liquids covered the floors.
Hayyawi has suggested to multiple media outlets that roughly a third of the store’s sellable inventory was destroyed in the act of violence. Adding in the cost of cash registers, the shattered front door and damage to other equipment necessary to operate, the loss is assumed to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a fundraising page.
As the frustration of being repeatedly victimized mounts for Hayyawi and Alsulaimawi, they’ve also since received threatening notes, warning them against reopening their store.
“Don’t reopen. Shut your mouth. It will get worse,” one note obtained by the Argus Leader reads.
Immediately following the latest vandalism, South Dakota Voices for Peace (SDVP) and Startup Sioux Falls dispatched a team of roughly 20 volunteers to help Hayyawi and Alsulaimawi clean up the mess that was left behind.
Taneeza Islam — who serves as executive director of SDVP, works an immigration lawyer, is a first-generation Muslim-American and was named a 2013 Bush Fellow — said acts of bigotry and racism have been on the rise in Sioux Falls, and SDVP responds to those acts in any way possible.
“The business owners are Muslim, they’re a Muslim family from Iraq, obviously that’s why we showed up for them to see what they needed,” Islam told Forum News Service. “They identified [a fundraiser] may help to get back on their feet, because there was so much damage done.”
Islam said her organization first learned about the act of vandalism through social media, and through conversation with Startup Sioux Falls’ president, Brienne Maner, the need to assist with cleanup and start a GoFundMe was quickly identified.
The fundraiser has received more than $13,000 from nearly 230 donors since it was launched Dec. 9.
But now, it’s not just local organizations looking to help.
Nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group calls for probe of vandalism
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement calling for an investigation to determine whether the vandalism and the notes that followed were motivated by bias.
“No American deserves to have their livelihood attacked as this couple did. The fact that their store has been vandalized three times in less than a year should raise red flags for investigators,” Corey Saylor, research and advocacy director for CAIR, said in the statement. “We urge law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive in this despicable attack.”
In a post on her personal Facebook page, Alsulaimawi said she considers the repeated act of vandalism a hate crime.
Under South Dakota law, a hate crime is deemed to have taken place only if a suspect maliciously and purposefully intimidates or harasses (or intends to) a person or group of people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry or national origin.
Sioux Falls Police, however, indicated in an email to multiple media outlets that there is no evidence to support that the criminal acts were executed with an intent that would qualify under the state’s definition of a hate crime. Those charging decisions, however, ultimately lie with prosecutors.
Police say no suspects have been apprehended in connection with the latest act of vandalism.
Hayyawi and Alsulaimawi declined further comment.