SF Chronicle, November 9, 2007
Civil rights advocates criticized plans by the Los Angeles Police Department to map the city’s Muslim communities, calling it racial profiling.
The LAPD’s counterterrorism bureau plans to identify Muslim enclaves in order to determine which might be likely to become isolated and susceptible to “violent, ideologically based extremism,” said Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing on Thursday. “We want to know where the Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens are so we can reach out to those communities,” said Downing, who heads the counterterrorism bureau. Downing said the plan is still in its early stages, but the LAPD wants to work with a Muslim partner and intends to have the data assembled by the University of Southern California’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis.
Downing testified about the plan before a U.S. Senate (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) Committee on Oct. 30. In his testimony, Downing said his bureau wanted to “take a deeper look at the history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socioeconomic status and social interactions” of the city’s Muslim communities.”
There are an estimated 500,000 Muslims in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.
On Thursday, several Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sent Downing a letter expressing “grave concerns” about the program.
“Singling out individuals for investigation, surveillance, and data-gathering based on their religion constitutes religious profiling that is just as unlawful, ill-advised and deeply offensive as racial profiling,” said the letter.
It was signed by representatives of the ACLU of Southern California; Muslim Advocates, a national association of Muslim lawyers; the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The plan “basically turns the LAPD officers into religious political analysts, while their role is to fight crime and enforce the laws,” said Hussam Ayloush, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who signed the letter. However, another group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, is considering working with the LAPD on the project.
“We will work with the LAPD and give them input, while at the same time making sure that people’s civil liberties are protected,” said Salam al-Marayati, the council’s executive director.
Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2007
Mayor Villaraigosa says the LAPD has ‘good intentions’ in gathering intelligence. Chief Bratton says the effort should be seen as ‘community engagement.’ Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
City officials this morning defended the LAPD’s decision to identify Muslim enclaves across the city, saying that instead of “mapping,” Angelenos should see the program as “community engagement.”
Civil rights groups have harshly criticized the new initiative as racial profiling that unfairly targets Muslims. The American Civil Liberties Union along with other community groups sent a letter to the LAPD this week saying the prospect of such a measure raised “grave concerns.”
At a press conference about police recruitment in Elysian Park, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William Bratton and Councilman Jack Weiss said they stood behind Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing’s decision to gather extensive intelligence about local Muslim communities.
“Chief Downing has good intentions here,” said Villaraigosa, who added that he had only learned of the new program through newspaper articles and at a short briefing.
The Police Department respects “the civil and human rights of Muslims in Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said.
The mapping program would be headed by Downing, who is in charge of the LAPD’s anti-terrorism bureau.
“We want to map the locations of these closed, vulnerable communities, and in partnership with these communities . . . help [weave] these enclaves into the fabric of the larger society,” Downing said in testimony about the program before Congress on Oct. 30.
At the hearing, Downing said his intentions were to “mitigate radicalization,” and that law enforcement agencies everywhere faced “a vicious, amorphous and unfamiliar adversary on our land.”
The LAPD hopes to identify communities that “may be susceptible to violent, ideologically based extremism and then use a full-spectrum approach guided by an intelligence-led strategy,” Downing said during the hearing.
Bratton tried to recast the program this morning, saying that incorrect words had been used to describe the LAPD’s actions.
“We are seeking contact with many communities,” he said. “We are doing it in a very transparent way here. We got hung up on the word ‘mapping’, this is ‘community engagement.’ ”
Bratton then used an anecdote from his first days as police commissioner in New York City in the early 1990s, saying that officers there raided what appeared to be a store but turned out instead to be a mosque.
Police can sometimes be ignorant of what is actually in their neighborhood, Bratton said, referencing the officers’ mistake. The new initiative is designed to get officers out into communities, meeting with people and learning the local landscape, he said.
City officials repeatedly praised the LAPD for its transparency in describing the program, but police have yet to give any details of how the mapping would be carried out or which communities would be affected.
“Right concern, wrong program,” Weiss said.
Concerns over clandestine racial profiling and spying by law enforcement are important concerns but do not apply to Downing’s initiative, Weiss said. “This is not a program of subterfuge, it is a program of transparency.”
Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, has embraced the vaguely defined program “in concept” and was on hand this morning to support the city officials. In an earlier interview, Al-Marayati said he wanted to know more about the plan and that he would meet with the LAPD next week.
Other Muslim groups have harshly condemned the project.
“We certainly reject this idea completely,” Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, said in an earlier interview. “This stems basically from this presumption that there is homogenized Muslim terrorism that exists among us.”
Anti-racists and civil liberties advocates remembered the mass arrests of muslims 5 years ago in Los Angeles, as they tried to comply with the special registration which were forced on muslims and south asians in the US following 9/11. (See below.)
BBC, December 19, 2002,
Families protested against the detention of relatives
US immigration officials in Southern California have detained hundreds of Iranians and other Muslim men who turned up to register under residence laws brought in as part of the anti-terror drive. Reports say between 500 and 700 men were arrested in and around Los Angeles after they complied with an order to register by 16 December.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is refusing to say how many people were arrested but said detainees were being held for suspected visa violations and other offences.
The arrests sparked angry protests in Los Angeles by thousands of Iranian-Americans waving banners which read “What’s next? Concentration camps?” and “Free our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons”.
Official radio in Iran also reported the arrests and the protests, which it said were mounted by families of the detainees who converged on Los Angeles.
Under the new US immigration rules, all male immigrants aged 16 and over from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria had to register with authorities by Monday unless they had been naturalised as citizens.
Southern California has a huge Iranian community
Immigrants from other mainly Muslim states have been set later deadlines for registration.
Community groups said men had been arrested in Los Angeles and nearby Orange County as well as San Diego.
California is home to about 600,000 Iranians who have been living in exile since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
One of the Iranian-American demonstrators in Los Angeles, Ali Bozorgmehr, told the French news agency AFP that his community was being targeted unjustly. “All Iranians that live in America are hard-working people… They love this country and all… are against terrorism,” he said.
Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the arrests were reminiscent of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“I think it is shocking what is happening,” she said.
“We are getting a lot of telephone calls from people. We are hearing that people went down wanting to co-operate and then they were detained.”
Islamic community leaders said many detainees had been living, working and paying taxes in the US for up to a decade and had families there.
“Terrorists most likely wouldn’t come to the INS to register,” said Sabiha Khan of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. She said the detainees were “being treated as criminals, and that really goes against American ideals of fairness, and justice and democracy”.