Examining Law Enforcement Interaction with Arab and Muslim Americans

Article excerpt

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) held a Feb. 3 briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight how the relationship between the Arab- and Muslim-American communities and law enforcement has progressed, and what outreach efforts have proven effective for mutually beneficial interaction and dialogue.

ADC legal director Abed E. Ayoub said he hoped the briefing would "set the record straight and dispel myths about how the Arab- and Muslim-American community engages with law enforcement." Relationships have been challenged since 9/11, Ayoub admitted, but there is an "open line of dialogue which has grown in positive ways."

Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said that in her home district trusting relationships between local authorities and Arab- and Muslim-American communities "help law enforcement more effectively combat radical extremism on both sides of the equation." She described the organization Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity (BRIDGES), formed in 2003 to promote dialogue on issues of mutual concern between federal law enforcement and affected vulnerable communities. This dialogue has helped the Muslim, South Asian and Arab community feel safer after racially or religiously driven incidents, McQuade said.

After talking through one such incident-when a Secret Service agent defaced a calendar in a Muslim home-the community concluded it was an isolated action involving one rogue agent, who was disciplined. After FBI agents fatally shot Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah 20 times during a 2009 raid on a warehouse in Dearborn, ongoing dialogue averted what could have been an explosion of violence on the street.

Law enforcement officers have also received tips about criminal activity, McQuade said, describing an incident the previous week, when a Californian drove across the country intending to blow up one of the nation's largest mosques in Dearborn. He was overheard in a Detroit bar describing his plan, and an alert employee took his license plate number. Roger Stockham was arrested Jan. 30 in a car packed with explosives outside the mosque, as 500 people gathered for a funeral. "We're proud of our outreach and engagement with the community," McQuade concluded. "We all want to protect our children."

Mike German, a former FBI agent who now works at the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, said a robust democracy protects freedom of speech, religion and participation. …