Are Relations Between NYPD and Muslims on Mend?

After years of tension, the shaky relations between the Muslim community and the NYPD may be on the mend, writes Azim Mian in a piece published in the Pakistan Post. The long piece in Urdu is summarized and excerpted below.

An opinion piece by Azim Mian in the Pakistan Post sees a better future in the severed relationship between Muslims and the NYPD. (Photo by GerritsenBeach.Net, Flickr Creative Commons License)

An opinion piece by Azim Mian in the Pakistan Post sees a better future in the severed relationship between Muslims and the NYPD. (Photo by GerritsenBeach.Net, Flickr Creative Commons License)

The Muslim community in New York City and New Jersey has been protesting for over a year against its surveillance by the NYPD.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly has been facing criticism and protests ever since the AP broke the story about the controversial program in a series of articles in 2011 and 2012.

Many Muslims believe that Kelly may have overstepped his powers by approving the monitoring and profiling of day-to-day activities in mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, student bodies and of individuals.

The news put relations between the NYPD and Muslim under tremendous pressure. But now some reports suggest a rebound in these relations.

The adverse psychological impact of the surveillance program on the Muslim community started emerging early this year. One report, “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims,” released in March by a coalition of Muslim civil liberties groups, concluded that the program had created a climate of fear and distrust among Muslims and left a “chilling effect on their ability to worship freely at mosques, and deterred organization around Muslim civil rights issues.”

The monitoring prompted legislative reaction in New Jersey where a state Senate committee passed a bill on June 17, requiring law enforcement agencies from elsewhere to give notice before they plan counterterrorism surveillance in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union, together with the New York Civil Liberties Union and CUNY’s CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility), filed a lawsuit on June 18 challenging the surveillance program.

Mian, a noted New York-based Pakistani journalist, paints the changing dynamics of NYPD-Muslim relations:

A group of Muslims was protesting outside 1 Police Plaza in Downtown Manhattan on June 25 while Commissioner Ray Kelly joined community leaders, Imams and several hundred Muslim NYPD officers [for an annual conference] to celebrate the advent of the holy month of Ramadan.

Ramadan started in parts of the U.S. on July 9. Muslims abstain from drinking and eating from dawn to dusk during the month, which is considered as a period for prayers, fasting, charity-giving and self-accountability.

The NYPD has been holding a pre-Ramadan conference since 2002. Last year it attracted more than 500 people. Members of the department’s Muslim Advisory Council, which was formed last year to improve relations between police and the community, were among the participants this year. Mian writes that this year’s conference was different from past years.

First of all, the number of Muslim police officers seemed to be much higher than previous years. The number of officers of Pakistani origin alone is around 600.

Officers of Middle Eastern, African and Asian origin are also significantly higher in number and U.S.-born Muslim officers too are becoming more visible in the department. Since the NYPD does not document its force on the basis of religion, even the NYPD Muslim Officers Society is unable to give the exact number of Muslims in the department.

Many officers of Pakistan origin are moving up the promotional ladder. Their presence has made it easier for their colleagues to better understand Pakistani culture, traditions and the challenges many in the community here face.

Mian writes that one can now frequently see NYPD officers wearing name badges such as Waheed Akhtar, Rana Adeel, Mehmood Malik, Ali, Adnan, Aroosa, Aalia (all popular first and last names amongst Pakistanis) on duty in different parts of the city.

Similarly, he notes, many youth from the Bangladeshi community have also joined the NYPD and are seen writing traffic tickets or controlling traffic on some intersections in the city.

Mian argues that it is because of the peaceful social activism of Muslims and the increasing role of Muslim youth in law enforcement that the stereotypes about the community in post-9/11 America are waning. He says tolerance for practicing Muslim officers is increasing in the NYPD. Many officers do not hide their religious practices, such as going for Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) or saying their daily prayers without compromising their professional duties.

Despite being a controversial figure for many Muslims, Kelly, according to Mian, is a “considerably changed man.” The commissioner launched a new training video produced to teach NYPD officers about the Islamic faith at the June 25 conference.

The NYPD was widely criticized early in 2012, including by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for using a controversial movie in its counter-terrorism training that portrayed American Muslims as extremists.

When I spoke to Commissioner Kelly, he used the term “Ramadan Kareem” (“Happy Ramadan”). During the course of the conversation, he mentioned that sometimes tensions are created on some issues but then, such issues are amicably resolved. Kelly was indicating that he is leaving the history of the controversial surveillance program behind and moving forward.

Mian came across a booklet with official guidelines for NYPD officers during the month of Ramadan. The guidelines give basic information about Muslim beliefs, the significance of Ramadan in their lives and the expected changes in Muslims’ day-to-day schedules, such as increased visits to mosques during the month. The NYPD says it deploys additional officers and patrol cars around mosques and Muslim neighborhoods to increase security and deter crime during religious observance.

American Muslims and their new generation are preserving their identity, living a peaceful life and enjoying more religious freedom than in many Islamic countries. They are enhancing the understanding of their faith and traditions in American society through their character and social services. America is their home and they will live and die here. Every community in the U.S. has had to pass through difficult times in their history and so do the American Muslims. But change is on the way.

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