In the wake of the shocking Memorial Day police-lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis — brutal proof of American society’s entrenched sanctioning of racial persecution — Zakat Foundation of America is delivering Tuesday, June 2, a refrigerated trailer full of fresh produce and food to the beleaguered poor locked in neighborhoods shut down by state curfew, police power and fiery violence of murky origin.
“We’re sending more than 18 tons of fresh produce and milk into the Minneapolis neighborhoods near Floyd’s killing, where the personal pain and economic deprivation has hurt most and soared highest,” said Halil Demir, Zakat Foundation’s executive director. “Our partners in relief live and serve the people there: families, the elderly, the sick and so many children. As an international Muslim charity that — as a matter of faith and practice — puts the urgent life-needs of all vulnerable human beings first, no matter their color and whatever their creed, we’ve reached out to them to offer relief to those most vulnerable.”
Two key nonprofit partners — Al-Maa’uun and Building Blocks of Islam — are part of the Minneapolis Muslim Leaders Coalition, a group of local organization heads who’ve held nightly conference calls since Floyd’s murder to assess the growing needs of vulnerable communities and strategize targeted relief responses in them.
“Zakat Foundation was the first national organization to reach out to us to determine how the people of the Twin Cities can be served in this time of crisis,” said Afzal Syed Mohamed, Building Blocks of Islam’s chief coordinator. “Through this support, we’re already planning our community response to ensure those affected have access to essentials like food and safety kits.”
The person coordinating that critical assessment effort, Nabi Naser, directs social services for Building Blocks of Islam, while Imam Makram El-Amine heads up Al-Maa’uun, a community nonprofit he founded to serve the needful.
Fresh Food in a Time of Scarcity
The torching and boarding up of small grocery stores and other local retail shops that normally serve the largely low-income residents have virtually wiped out food and daily supplies’ availability.
Demir, whose international Muslim charity is headquartered near Chicago, said food access, especially to fresh produce, has quickly grown into an immediate crisis for the thousands of poor stranded in these focal-point areas of intervention and reaction — and it is spreading.
“Some of these neighborhoods, people describe as food deserts,” Demir said. “As the sandstorm from the killing and its aftermath intensifies, the dustbowl expands. Thousands of innocents are now caught up in it.”
Demir said he expects the international charity’s first refrigerated shipment to arrive June 2, with fresh-food boxes for at least 1,500 families, each one containing 25 lbs. of produce, including tomatoes, apples, oranges, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, carrots, asparagus, onions, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables. Zakat Foundation will also distribute 400 gallons of fresh milk. “We’re truly grateful that Zakat Foundation took the initiative to help us address the critical need in our community,” said Syed of Building Blocks of Islam.
An Eye on Revitalizing Now Roiling Minneapolis Communities
Demir hopes, as well, to find ways to help small businesses vital to these neighborhoods reopen when the time comes. Most are owned and run by African Americans and immigrants that, importantly, live and work in the area. Proprietors understandably remain fearful for their safety, and that of their family members, workers and stores.
These worries have risen along with widespread reports and rumors of agitators infiltrating peaceful protests to stoke confrontation for extremist causes.
In addition, the crowd-control tactics of enforcing authorities, intimidatingly deployed in phalanxes and full riot gear, have markedly escalated, including shooting rubber bullets and pepper spray, using tear gas and firing incendiaries.
Fears Loom on the COVID-19 Horizon
The police murder of Floyd presents nothing new in America, which has long struggled with increased social, judicial and law-enforcement crises of systematically impoverishing, under-educating, jailing and unaccountably killing African Americans in particular, but also Latinos and others considered outside the strongly racialized, communalized socio-political mainstream.
Yet this unrest has hit Minneapolis (and is now spreading to other major U.S. towns) at a precarious time. The city remains caught in a rising coronavirus pandemic tide. Hennepin and Ramsey counties, which hold Minneapolis and sister-city St. Paul, each project to fall short of available ICU beds in the next three weeks, according to Leavitt Partners, a health care intelligence firm.
The scary confluence of previously unanticipated protest crowds, the violent dismantling of local businesses and essential services infrastructure in these already impoverished neighborhoods, along with a state-wide reopening program now underway, makes a COVID-19 spike in the violence-stricken area seem likely in the coming weeks.
This is all the more disturbing as the Floyd killing and Minneapolis’ and other cities’) subsequent troubles have centered on African American communities generally forsaken in health care deserts and cordoned off in poor neighborhoods. These communities have already scandalously suffered the majority of rampant community coronavirus sickness and death in America. “We’re worried that these neighborhoods and their residents will not have time to recover from all the trauma they’ve suffered through these past months, and now this,” Demir said. “That’s why we’re trying to respond quickly to their multiple levels of humanitarian need, all of which come down to the most human of rights — food, health care and personal safety.
“Some may call this compassion. At Zakat Foundation, as a Muslim charity, we call it by its God-given name: Justice.”