In December of 2011 President Obama released a set of guidelines entitled National Strategy for Empowering Local Partners. The document sought to do exactly what the title suggested, empower local communities to partner with law enforcement agencies to counter violent extremism. The President hit the nail on the head when he said, "As government, we are working to prevent all types of extremism that leads to violence, regardless of who inspires it." Yet the strategy was predicated on one essential idea, that government actually builds partnerships which are grounded in trust. The document went on to say:
Partnerships are vital to address a range of challenges and must have as their foundation a genuine commitment on the part of law enforcement and government to address community needs and concerns, including protecting rights and public safety. In our efforts to counter violent extremism, we will rely on existing partnerships that communities have forged with Federal, State, and local government agencies.
This notion of partnering with communities to address violent extremism is not a feel good government outreach program; rather a real tool in enhancing our national security. According to studies done by my organization the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and Duke University's Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security since 9/11 40 percent of domestic terror plots have been foiled by the help of Muslims. Why? Because just like every other American, Muslims are vigilant ensuring that their community and country remain safe.
Yet, again that trust has been broken by the NYPD. In another set of disturbing revelations, reported by the New York Times, for years the agency has been profiling anyone who comes through police precincts and have attempted to recruit them into becoming confidential informants and spying on their local mosques and communities. These were not hardened criminals who were being asked to do the "dirty work" of the NYPD, in one case a young man who was brought in after a dispute about a parking ticket was pressured into agreeing to become an informant.
Even more disturbing is the type of questions that these individuals are being asked, directly linking their faith with terrorism. In reports written by officers, individuals were asked what mosques they attended, whether they celebrated holidays or whether they had gone for pilgrimage to Mecca. When this type of blatantly unconstitutional religious profiling takes place there is no question that communities will lose trust in those who are entrusted to serve and protect them.
Even as Duke University has shown that much of the homegrown terrorism frenzy is "overhyped", organizations like ours and other have recently launched initiatives which put forth a model of engagement between communities and law enforcement agencies to more effectively counter violent extremism. One initiative entitled Safe Spaces gives best practices on preventing another Boston type situation and empowers communities to intervene and help troubled individuals.
Yet all of this is for naught if agencies like the NYPD continue to implement rogue programs which are ineffective, waste millions of dollar of taxpayer resources and do not uphold the values that make us a great nation.
The President's guidance is clear, the benefits of establishing robust partnerships are undeniable and communities have been willing to develop strong relationships. So why is the NYPD continuing to implement toxic policies and programs. New Yorkers, especially Muslim deserve better from the institutions that are supposed to serve them.
One thing is apparent, partnership and building trust works, yet the NYPD cannot have it both ways, they either choose communities as partners or suspects. Unfortunately until now they have chosen to declare whole communities as suspect. As Americans who deeply care for the safety and values of our nation we refuse to accept the suspect paradigm and will continue to make our nation a more freer and safer place and we hope that the NYPD will join us in this endeavor.