"Sitting in a parked car gets 4 men into trouble"
March 26, 2003
BY BEN SCHMITT
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Four buddies parked their car by the Detroit River early Tuesday morning, where they said they sat reminiscing about high school. They pulled over near the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant on Jefferson and Dearborn Street. They had a laptop computer. And they are Arab Americans.
Soon, they were surrounded by five Detroit Police cars and had cops screaming in their faces. Five more cars arrived, then five more. Assem Musaibli, 21, said officers began insinuating that he and his friends had evil intentions. "They told us we fit a description," Musaibli recalled Wednesday from his Dearborn home. "I said, 'Why, because we're Middle Eastern?' Meanwhile, I was born and raised here." Police said the men, who range in age from 19 to 21, parked in a poorly lit location, next to the plant's water intake facility. Officers noticed an open manhole cover and called the FBI. FBI agents sent the men home, although the laptop computer is being held as evidence. Investigators reported a strong odor of marijuana in the 2003 Pontiac Grand Am. Still, no drugs were found, there was no reason to hold the men and the only charge issued was a misdemeanor traffic warrant against Musaibli, police said. "It was four individuals that were found to be smoking marijuana and just parked their car in the wrong location to do that, near the water treatment plant," said FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman. "There is nothing terrorism-related about it." Musaibli denies smoking marijuana. Two of his friends taken into questioning had arrived in another car before getting into the red Grand Am with him and the 19-year-old. Musaibli's explanation for the laptop is that his 19-year-old friend uses it to watch DVDs.
Cmdr. Charles Barbieri of the 4th (Fort-Green) Precinct said the officers involved are assigned to the Detroit Police Mobile Field Force, created for the city's homeland security. The force patrols potential targets of terrorism, and officers were checking the water-intake facility as part of their patrol. "The officers did absolutely nothing wrong," Barbieri said. Even if the encounter was justified, Musaibli and his three friends, all Edsel Ford High School graduates, are shaken. "I'm mad that they viewed us as possible terrorists," Musaibli said. "Why can't we sit in a car? They kept telling us we were up to something. It's racial."At this time in the United States, Arab Americans are going to be profiled, said Abdulbar Sofyan, an uncle of one of the men questioned by FBI agents."Hey, we're in an orange alert. We're Arab Americans," said Sofyan, 28. "This kind of stuff is going to happen, and we have to deal with it and move on with our lives. If you're not doing anything wrong, you can't let it get to you."
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