Muslims Still Targeted for Police, FBI Harassment
by Thomas Tracy and Stephen Witt
One of the largest and fastest-growing Muslim communities in the United States is in the borough of Brooklyn, and incidents of harassment and “profiling”—by both the New York City Police Department and FBI—seem unabated there three years and counting after 9-11.
In one recent incident in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, a police officer reportedly tailed a prominent member of the local Arab community only to finally confront him at a gas station with his gun drawn and ask where “the bombs were.”
Activists as well as members of the Arab community brought these allegations to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly during a special meeting at Medgar Evers College on June 15.
After listening to complaint after complaint, Kelly encouraged all of those concerned to bring their charges to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). “If anyone feels aggrieved or abused by the police, the vehicle they can use to get their point across is to contact the CCRB,” he told the audience. “They are the independent agency for the NYPD that investigates these allegations and it’s easier than it has been.”
Some guests attending the community conference said that they had heard stories that cops routinely question Arabs’ immigration status. Others recalled the May incident in the 66th Precinct where a Bangladeshi immigrant was hospitalized during a robbery, but, because of an alleged miscommunication between police officers, the case was never investigated until the hospital informed them that the man had died.
Several hundred Bangladeshi immigrants living in Kensington braved the rain to protest the homicide. Once the case was investigated, detectives arrested two teenagers for the crime, Kelly said, claiming that the “internal miscommunication” was still being investigated.
The worst alleged case of police insensitivity toward Brooklyn’s Muslim communities brought forth at the meeting involved a Bay Ridge man who was reportedly followed by a police officer for two miles, only to be confronted by the cop at a neighborhood gas station with his gun drawn earlier this year.
“He was terrified. The cop followed him for two and a half miles and didn’t put on a siren,” said a friend of the victim. “He [the cop] waited until he was filling up at a gas station, then he got out of his car, pulled a gun and aimed it right at this gentleman, asking him for his license and where the bombs were.”
Sources at the 68th Precinct said that the resident’s allegations were investigated and, after some conversations where apologies were made, the resident decided against taking his complaints any further.
Ultimately, the unnamed community leader received four tickets, which were later dismissed, the friend detailing the story said.
While Kelly said that it was difficult to hear these kinds of stories, he also questioned the validity of the account, because the friend did not witness what had happened and the incident had not been officially reported.
“Something like this should clearly go to the review board,” he said, adding that a retelling of the story after so many months can be “like a game of telephone.”
“One person tells another person and everything is changed,” he said.
But close to a half dozen speakers from the community demanded more sensitivity training from the Commissioner.
Flatbush community activist Asghar Choudry said the cops “are confused because they know nothing about our religion or customs. You should let our Imams and leaders become more active and go into the police stations and give sensitivity training, not only to the new officers but to the supervisors and commanding officers as well.”
Commissioner Kelly said that the next academy class, due out in July, is more educated and more ethnically diverse than in previous years. “We are making our police force more reflective of the community,” he said.
In addition to NYPD “profiling” on Brooklyn’s Muslims, federal “anti-terrorist” investigations continue to target the borough’s Islamic community.
Another community meeting in Brooklyn posed a hardened F.B.I. agent saying it was his job to protect the country against several hundred Muslim immigrants saying the way they were treated was un-American.
That was the scene at the Bukhara Catering hall, on Coney Island Avenue in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn in early June, when representatives from the F.B.I. and the Homelands Security Department’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement came to address concerns of the borough’s fast-growing Muslim community.
Sponsoring the event were the Council on American Islamic Relation (CAIR), the Arab American/Muslim Consultants Network (AAMCM), the Arab American Family Support Center (AAFSC), the American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (AAADC), and local neighborhood mosques and businesses.
Chuck Frahm, who heads the counter terrorism division of the F.B.I in New York City, called the meeting an important exchange of ideas and said he has now participated in several such forums, where “we listen and hear what you have to say.”
“A proud cornerstone of the United States Constitution is to ensure civil rights are protected, including freedom of religion,” Frahm told the audience. “But I can also say we make no apologies for the actions we must take to protect America. We must be able to obtain information to help you in this room. We service everybody in this room, it doesn’t matter if they are a citizen or not. But I also need your help to keep America safe.”
Frahm said his agency investigates many types of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes, including the illegal transfer of money, but emphasized there are terrorist groups that have nothing to do with the Islamic community that he also investigates, singling our neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
The meeting began with civil rights attorney Khurrum Wahid stating that relations between the government and Muslim community continue to erode and that it is incumbent on both sides to try to repair the “serious lack of trust that happened in the aftermath of September 11.”
Wahid said law enforcement has contributed to the culture of fear in New York, citing the increasing use of confidential informants culled from the local community. Often these informants have outstanding deportation orders and are offered the chance to get a green card if they cooperate and assist in the apprehension of others, Wahid said.
Wahid said the distrust is further hampered by the government practice of using immigration to detain people when in fact they are working on criminal case.
These immigrants are sometimes pulled from their homes in the dead of night in front of their families, where no attorney is provided. There are a number of media reports based on government leaks placing the arrest in a criminal context, when in fact, it is immigration related.
Among these cases, that caused the ire of local Muslim-Americans is the recent detention of two teenage Muslim girls from Queens, who were detained on immigration violations in March, after the F.B.I. became concerned that they might be planning to become suicide bombers.
Their detention without adequate legal representation, and their being held in Pennsylvania far from their families, was the cause of at least one Muslim-American meeting in Kensington in protest. After six weeks in detention the girls were released in early May, and officials have yet to comment on the case.
Lastly, Wahid complained that often at border crossings, Muslim-Americans are detained for no other reason than their name is on a “watch list” because a suspected terrorist or criminal has the same name. The name Mohammad in the Muslim community is akin to John Smith in America, he said, likening this practice to profiling.
Martin Ficke, a special agent with the New York City office of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that the Asian and Latino communities express the same types of complaints that immigration and customs authorities are targeting and profiling them.
As for the “watch list” of names, Ficke admitted that there are certain names that require local authorities to look into identities. Both Ficke and Frahm said this has to be done in the name of security, and often Latinos with common names such as Fernandez are stopped and questioned if it matches the name of a drug lord.
Frahm admitted it is often an inconvenience to be stopped at the border, even stating that he was once even detained at the Canadian border–but for now it is a security precaution that must be followed. One way to make the detainment go quicker, said Frahm, is to make sure that you always carry plenty of documentation of who you are and what you do.
But Brooklyn was hit especially hard by the post-9-11 sweeps—nearly half of the borough’s 120,000 Pakistanis alone were detained, deported or chose to leave, according to the New York Times. And with abuses continuing, authorities may find that rebuilding trust will take more than appeals for patience and cooperation.
Adopted for WW4 REPORT from journalism that appeared in Brooklyn’s Courier Life publications.
Council on American-Islamic Relations
“In Brooklyn, 9/11 Damage Continues,” New York Times, June 7, 2003 http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Park/6443/WTC/brooklyn.html
Our last report on the detained teenage girls:
“Fear on Atlantic Avenue,” WW4 REPORT #76
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution