By: Nezar Hamze
As law enforcement agencies strive to keep our nation safe from terrorists, a growing amount of controversy and distrust regarding the unconstitutional practices of religious and ethnic profiling by law enforcement is being reported from around the country.
There is a group within the NYPD that spies on and profiles Muslims, countless reports of federal agents recruiting informants and/or provocateurs into Muslim communities and Rep Peter King’s congressional hearings about the “Radicalization of the American Muslim Community.”
On the flipside, we have Muslim communities working diligently with law enforcement at all levels, such as the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress and the Florida Muslim Congress, to build safe communities and open direct lines of communications to counter terrorism. The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have also released the BCOT program. Together, these leaders are training community members and giving them the tools to interact with law enforcement at an institutional level.
Each agency needs to ask itself about the kind of relationship it has with the Muslim community? Is its relationship built on deception and secrecy, or transparency and public awareness? Or does the agency even engage with Muslims?
If an agency wants to foster a healthy partnership with the Muslim community, whether or not it is on a local, regional or national scale, it needs to develop a strong and transparent relationship. This means developing public participation , which mutually benefits the Muslim community, creates safe environments and enhances public awareness.
Our opportunity in Florida?
I’m not going to sugar-coat the number of Muslims that have been indicted on terrorism charges in Florida since the tragedy of 9/11 — there have been 33. Nor will I sensationalize this data and say Muslims are the only ones being indicted on terrorism charges; they aren’t. But, effective leadership goes beyond recognizing conflict; it goes beyond pointing the finger. The Muslim leadership in South Florida has created a SMART plan outlined below to work with law enforcement, which can be duplicated easily around the country.
Educate the Muslim community
Give the Muslim community all the facts, don’t sensationalize or sugar-coat the problem. Share the impact of the problem that you are facing and explain in detail how you must respond as law enforcement officials. Offer factual data and put the areas of concern into perspective, give the community some ownership. Educate the community on programs your agency has in place in which they can participate, and make the Muslim community part of the solution. Have open community meetings to accomplish this or go to the mosques for a more personal visit. Bring literature, lots of it. Muslims love to read.
Give the Muslim community the knowledge and tools to report suspicious or criminal behavior
These tools are important. The understanding of different types of behavior that indicate possible criminal activity is a good place to start educating people. Your focus on gang units can be an excellent resource, because terrorists and gangs share a lot of similar behavior patterns. Creating open lines of communication between LEO’s and the Muslim community is crucial. To accomplish this, the Muslim community must be aware of the different methods they can use to report activity. They must also have a basic level of trust with the LEO agent or agency. Giving Muslims the tools to identify a problematic behavior and then report it should not be taken for granted. Doing this may be as simple as providing “crime stopper” materials in different languages, or as complex as training sessions detailing the different FTO organizations that have known affiliates in your area.
Continuously create an atmosphere of public awareness and trust
This trust is not easily obtained. It is a process that takes effort from law enforcement and the Muslim community.
1.Create public awareness of the programs that your institution currently has in place, such as crime stoppers, citizens academies, community policing and youth programs. Invite all communities, including Muslims, to participate and be a part of your agency. Quarterly town hall meetings are a great tool to start the relationship.
2.Attend different events within the community. Believe me, you are welcome at any Muslim community activity.
3.Educate the Muslim communities on the problems you are facing and bring them to the table on creating SMART plans to deal with the areas of concern.
4.Give your community the tools to report suspicious or criminal behavior, including contact info for the FBI, crime stoppers, your contact info or SARS. Crime stoppers is a great tool because it allows the reporter to remain anonymous.
5.Reward your Muslim citizens for participating in your programs — positive reinforcement goes a long way.
6.Treat all members of your community fairly.
Working together as partners to keep our country safe at a grassroots level will accomplish more in one year than one thousand congressional hearings. Sheriff Leroy Baca said it best: “The Muslim American community plays a vital role in protecting the people of the United States. Their participation and our continuing effort to both educate and engage community support is essential to the entire Homeland Security endeavor.”
Nezar Hamze is the Executive Director of South Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR FL). He can be reached at: