When Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud and his wife decided to visit Erie Orchards and Cider Mills in Monroe County on Sunday, the Ann Arbor family was expecting a fun day picking peaches with their three daughters ages 8, 4 and 6 months.But instead of a weekend trip many in Michigan enjoy, Mahmoud said he encountered bigotry from the owner, Steve Elzinga, whom he said blocked them from leaving after a dispute over peaches, telling him in an exchange captured on video: “Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me.”When Mahmoud said he was being racist toward Muslims, Elzinga doubled down on his remarks, replying: “Of course I am,” and “I don’t want them (Muslims) here.”Steve Elzinga, owner of Erie Orchards and Cider Mill in Erie, Michigan, on August 13, 2023, standing near truck of Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud, of Ann Arbor.
Mahmoud shared a video of Elzinga in which he is heard saying: “Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me.”Mahmoud, who is Muslim and of Arab descent, uploaded videos of the encounter that show the orchard owner making the anti-Muslim remarks.
Mahmoud said he felt threatened by Elzinga, who was accusing him of not paying for peaches they picked from the orchards and then tried to block him from leaving.
The videos have generated outrage from Arab American advocates and others in metro Detroit who are now calling for a boycott of the orchards.The case illustrates the hostility that some minorities say they face when they travel to rural parts of Michigan for summer trips.
Last year, a group of Muslims of Bangladeshi descent said they were threatened and harassed while on a farm near Adrian for a religious holiday.Mahmoud’s wife wears hijab, including a headscarf that’s a visible indicator that she is Muslim.”He put that fear into us,” Mahmoud told the Free Press by phone.
“It was (supposed to be) a Sunday fun day with the girls, but it didn’t really turn out that way.”At one point, Mahmoud said, he told Elzinga: “Just leave us alone, my girls are crying.
… I’m scared now for my family.”On Wednesday, Elzinga told the Monroe News: “I should never have said a generalized comment about Muslims being thieves and coming here to take advantage of us because that’s not true.
I regret that I made those kinds of statements.
It’s just not me.
We’ve been here for 45 years and have always been open to everybody.”Mahmoud’s attorney, Abdallah Moughni, said the family plans to file a lawsuit this week.
Moughni said Mahmoud spoke with a sergeant of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office after the incident.
Mahmoud told police he wanted Elzinga investigated for alleged threats and harassment, but was told no crime was committed, Moughni said.
A message left by the Free Press with the sergeant was not returned as of Wednesday afternoon.What made the alleged racism ironic, Mahmoud said, is that a majority of the people visiting the orchards at the time appeared to be Muslim.Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud, of Ann Arbor, with his three children at Erie Orchards and Cider Mills in Monroe County in Erie, Michigan, on August 13, 2013.
He alleges he and his family were threatened and racially harassed with anti-Muslim comments by the owner, who is heard on a video saying: “Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me.””It is unconscionable that such hatred and bigotry continues to exist today,” Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told the Free Press.
“Beyond an apology, the perpetrator needs to be held accountable for his actions.
We call on law enforcement to look into ethnic intimidation charges against the perpetrator.”According to Mahmoud, he had initially purchased about $70 worth of candy and pre-picked peaches.
His young girls wanted to pick peaches themselves, but an employee told them they weren’t many left in good condition, Mahmoud said.More: Immigrants’ trip to buy slaughtered cattle near Adrian turns into dispute with farmer”He told us that there wasn’t any peaches to pick because they’re all gone,” Mahmoud said of the employee.
“‘But if you guys want to go back there, you guys could pick.’ I told him if we come back with a bag, you know, what do we do?
He goes, You guys are good.”His girls were eager to pick some on their own and so the employee “said we were allowed to explore without charge if we found anything in the orchard worth taking,” Mahmoud wrote.A photo Mahmoud sent to the Free Press shows him and his three daughters in the orchards picking fruit.
They found some peaches and apples that were mostly rotten and then walked toward their Ford truck to leave.”Most of it was rotten, but you know how little girls are,” he said.
“They want to take it home anyway, they picked it, they want it.”After they were at their truck, Elzinga then approached them and started rummaging through their pickings.”The guy starts going through the back of my truck, where my daughter was, looking like in her diaper bag,” Mahmoud said.
“I was like, ‘What are you doing?
Why are you going through my daughter’s bag?
… I explained to him like, ‘Hey, look.
I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not right.'”More: Asian Americans mourn loss of Chinatown building, ask Ilitches to work with communityElzinga then demanded he pay $58, which Mahmoud said didn’t make sense because it was $2.49 a pound, and they had a small amount of rotten peaches, not 24 pounds worth.
Moreover, the employee had told him they could have any peaches they found for free.Elzinga then made the remarks about how all Muslims visiting there were thieves.”I don’t need you,” Elzinga said on the video, referring to Muslims.Mahmoud said he offered to pay whatever he owed.
After Elzinga made the racist remarks, Mahmoud gave him back the picked peaches.Elzinga appears in the video to block the truck and said he called police.
When police didn’t arrive after about 45 minutes, Mahmoud said Elzinga told him they would arrive in two hours.
Mahmoud said he become worried Elzinga might attack him and his family.Mahmoud said he then told him he was going to leave and slowly backed up his truck.Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud, of Ann Arbor, alleges he and his family were threatened and racially harassed with anti-Muslim comments by the man in this still from a video he took, whom he identified as Steve Elzinga, owner of Erie Orchards and Cider Mills, on August 13, 2023.
“Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me,” the man is heard saying on the video, taken at the orchards in Erie, Michigan, in Monroe County.Elzinga apologized for his remarks in his Wednesday comments to the Monroe News.”We have a number of Muslims who come here on a regular basis and pay and are really, really good customers,” he said.
“So I regret that and I’m sorry for that and I apologize for that.”He said theft has been a frequent problem at the farm, and he claimed Mahmoud’s was the third car that day trying to leave with produce without paying.
Elzinga admitted there was likely miscommunication between Mahmoud and the staff.”It probably was (a miscommunication),” said Elzinga.
“But if you pick, you still have to pay.
That’s where the problem was.
We’ve had a number of incidents where this has happened.
This wasn’t an isolated incident.
We’ve had several people this year and in past years where some reason they come in and think it’s free.”Moughni, Mahmoud’s attorney, said Elzinga violated criminal and civil laws.”The first thing he did was falsely imprison my client and his family,” Moughni said.
“He held them by their vehicle for 45 minutes under the notion that they could not leave.
And my clients reasonably believed that they were stuck there.
… Then after that, he committed intentional infliction of emotional distress to my client, his three daughters and his wife.
He also violated the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which says that there can be no religious discrimination within public accommodations.”Moughni said that he’s concerned other Muslims and immigrants may have been harassed previously in a similar manner and may have ended up paying Elzinga to avoid confrontation.In the incident at the farm near Adrian last year, the group of Muslims who visited the farm to purchase or take part in slaughter of animals for Eid said they felt threatened and were worried about being cheated of money they had paid.Minhaj Russell Chowdhury, of Warren, told the Free Press last year he was inside the farm when he witnessed an attack, accusing the farmer of driving on a four-wheeler to push people off his farm.”After that, I am very scared,” Chowdhury said.The farmer said he was tripped by one of the visitors.
No charges were filed in the 2022 incident.As he drove home Sunday with his family from the orchard in Erie, Mahmoud said he was scared: “The whole time driving my family home, I was like, ‘Man, is this guy going to come out of nowhere?
And hit my truck or shoot at me?’ I don’t know.”Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan, said: “We caution the Muslim community and others of good conscience from patronizing Erie Orchards and Cider Mill due to the alleged bigoted behavior and speech of its owner.
There are many other orchards in Michigan where families can pick fruit in a wholesome atmosphere without being subjected to alleged religious profiling and denigration from its owners.”Contact Niraj Warikoo: [email protected], Facebook.com/nwarikoo, Twitter @nwarikoo.This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan orchard owner apologizes after bigoted comments toward Muslims View comments