Members of the South Asian advocacy group DRUM held a rally Saturday in Flushing to protest what they see as their community’s poor treatment at the hands of law enforcement officials investigating the Queens terrorism case.
Carrying signs that read “Racial and religious profiling is wrong,” “Stop the raids” and “FBI stay out of our communities,” local activists and religious leaders came together to promote the dignity and respect of Muslim people, whom they believe have been the subject of unfair scrutiny since a visit to New York last month by suspected Qaeda operative Najibullah Zazi led to the raids of three Flushing-area apartment buildings.
“We’ve heard stories of some serious fear, serious indiscriminate law enforcement and a wide casting of a net over an entire Muslim community,” said Monami Maulik, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving. “An entire community and people and religion should not be profiled or characterized as terrorists because
of certain investi-gations.”
DRUM, an advocacy group which consists of low-income South Asian and Muslim immigrants, who work to promote immigrant rights and global justice, held a press conference on Saturday in front of Flushing Library.
While the members of DRUM said they recognize the FBI-NYPD probe is necessary, they want it to be conducted in a way that is lawful and respects every citizen’s right to due process — and contend that is not the case now, though the Police Department disagrees.
Maulik said that during times of national fear, vulnerable individuals such as immigrants, low-wage workers, street vendors and cab drivers often become victims of law enforcement’s “indiscriminate policies of racial profiling” because they don’t have access to legal resources to be able to defend themselves.
“The NYPD does not engage in racial profiling,” Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne said in an e-mail statement responding to the claims. “It follows leads in terrorism cases in much the same way it follows leads in gun trafficking and other cases of criminal activity.”
Many of the Flushing residents who say they have recently become victims of racial profiling were too afraid to attend the press conference and share their experiences, according to Ayesha Mahmooda, a community organizer with DRUM, who has spent the last three weeks talking to individuals who live in the buildings that were raided, and spoke out on their behalf.
“Many women have been saying that their husbands, when they are going to work, are being questioned and I.D.’d and being asked by police enforcement, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Are you involved in any kinds of attacks or plotting anything?’” she explained. “This is putting a lot of residents in the Flushing community in fear and in shock and they don’t know what to do or who to speak to.”
Imam Ayub Abdul Baki of the Islamic Leadership Council, who also spoke, said his group condemns all forms of terrorism regardless of the perpetrator’s religious affiliation. He further stated that the council applauds the police when they do what is right and just in apprehending criminals, but encourages them to refrain from religious and racial profiling.
“Freedom of religion is a right and because of one’s faith one should not be victimized, vilified, demonized or criminalized,” Baki said. “If you find a person perpetrating a crime, then he should be convicted as a criminal, not convicted on the basis of his faith.”
Naiz Khan, whose 41st Avenue apartment in Flushing was raided after Zazi spent a night there during his New York visit, said his life has been greatly affected by the incident.
“I have no job now,” he said. “I am looking for a job. The people who used to give me a job, if they heard about me, they would not give me that job again.”
Khan added that he could not go to Pakistan to visit his wife or children for the recent Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Instead, he attended religious services at a mosque with his roommates but said he couldn’t even manage to offer them the celebratory greeting of “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Blessed Eid.”
“I was so scared,” Khan said. “I was so nervous.”
A worshiper at the Masjid Hazrat Abubakr mosque on 33rd Avenue in Flushing, who identified himself only as Mr. Sultan, said that since the raids attendance for Friday Jumu’ah prayer services have dropped from 500 attendees to fewer than 100. The mosque is the one Zazi attended, according to law enforcement agents.
“This country was founded by our fathers based on the freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and unfortunately, people feel they are being harassed and they don’t want to come to mosque in order to worship God almighty,” he said.
Members of Veterans For Peace, local chapter 34, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate others about the costs of war, also attended to show their support for the Muslim community.
“A wide net has been tossed out to take in people that have done nothing wrong,” said member Gabriel Falsetta of Glendale. “This type of broad reach has led to the harassment of the Afghan and Muslim community, and it also just props up the idea that you can’t trust your neighbors. It’s a very divisive approach to the whole concept of terrorism.”
Suspect’s father indicted as terror probe continues
The investigation into and proscecution of an alleged terrorist plot against the city continued this past week with the indictment of the main suspect’s father and revelations about why police moved against defendant Najibullah Zazi when they did.
Zazi’s father, Mohammed Zazi, is charged with making a false statement in a matter involving terrorism — an allegation that could bring an eight-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine if he is convicted.
The elder Zazi was indicted in Colorado on Oct. 8. According to the indictment, he “did knowingly and willfully make a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement” to FBI agents when he told them that he had not discussed whether his son “was in any trouble” with anyone.
The government charges that Zazi did in fact discuss his son’s legal situation with an imam in Flushing.
Meanwhile Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told the press that police arrested the younger Zazi, who is charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, because early last month he raced back to the city from Colorado at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, raising fears that he planned a bombing on the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks.
— Peter C. Mastrosimone