In Fighting Terrorism, NYPD Must Treat Muslim Americans Like Partners, Not Suspects

Instead of embracing American Muslims as partners, the NYPD has destroyed trust. As a religious leader who talks to a wide variety of American Muslims on a daily basis, I can tell you that this treatment is demoralizing.
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Muslims first arrived in this country while the United States was in its infancy. Thousands of Muslim slaves were brought here from Africa and worked on southern plantations. Today, there are as many as nine million Muslims in the United States, in all parts of the country. We are doctors, lawyers and police officers. We are active participants in cities, towns and villages, sitting on city councils and school boards, volunteering for civic groups and coaching Little League teams. We are of all races. Some of us were born here, others came in search of a better life for our children. We are Americans.

As Americans we have the same concerns as our neighbors. We worry about bringing home a paycheck, about raising children and about keeping our families safe. And so we worry about terrorism and have a stake in preventing it and any other kind of violence. We have been at the forefront of preventing terrorism, cooperating with law enforcement and raising a red flag whenever we see or hear anything indicative of criminal activity. In fact, studies show that more than a third of the tips used to stop potential terrorist plots have come from Muslim Americans. We recognize that if there's an attack, our communities would suffer -- not only from the violence but also from the backlash.

That's why I and other American Muslims have watched with sadness and frustration as the NYPD has declared war on our communities in the name of fighting terrorism. The NYPD has undertaken an institutional strategy of criminalizing American Muslims, spying on us and generally treating us like suspicious outsiders instead of taxpaying Americans. They have files about what is said in our houses of worship, the restaurants where we like to eat and the people we choose to spend time with. Instead of embracing American Muslims as partners, the NYPD has destroyed the trust between our community and law enforcement.

As a religious leader who counsels and talks to a wide variety of American Muslims across the nation on a daily basis, I can tell you that this treatment is demoralizing. It causes other Americans to look at us suspiciously. It makes us distrustful of law enforcement. Worst of all, it makes all of us less safe. Because the best strategy to protect our nation is one that embraces the American Muslim community as partners, one that builds trust between the police and the communities they serve. Yet even as we prove to be excellent partners in fighting terrorism, we are increasingly treated more like suspects.

Fortunately there has been some recognition in Washington that the NYPD's practices should not be condoned. Attorney General Eric Holder said he was "disturbed" by spying on American citizens, and three dozen members of Congress have requested an investigation. But recent remarks by the White House's Chief Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan sent mixed signals and the NYPD has not backed down, supporting its efforts with a campaign of fear in the media.

Our government has a responsibility to safeguard the rights of all citizens of this country, especially minority populations. The White House must exercise leadership and issue a clear message that targeting people based on religion or national origin is not an acceptable law enforcement tactic. New York's own representatives in the City Council must also step up to the plate and make clear that the NYPD must not use tactics that target and alienate the city's vibrant and diverse American Muslim communities.

As Americans, we are all in this together. And only by working together can we keep all of our families safe.

Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid is Imam at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Manhattan, and President of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York.

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