Individuals gathered in Jackson Heights on Tuesday afternoon to mourn victims of recent hate crimes and to call on the Police Department and elected officials to change policies that they say target Muslims.
Supporters attended the rally with signs saying “Stop violence against women,” “Stop normalizing racism and violence,” and “NYPD and MTA, racial profiling and hateful ads have consequences.”
Councilmen Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) spoke against anti-Muslim crimes and relayed anecdotes about their personal fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
“It’s time for moderate Muslims to speak up,” said Khalid Reman, a retired physician from Manhattan, “not just the voice of the extremist Muslim groups.”
Shahina Parveen, a Desis Rising Up and Moving leader, told the crowd of about 50 that her mentally ill son was manipulated by police officers into confessing to a crime he did not commit. He is serving 30 years in prison.
“People with mental health issues need help and treatment, not punishment. This not only destroyed my family, but it also spread fear in the minds of Americans,” Parveen said.
Council on American Islamic Relations Executive Director Muneer Awad claimed police move slowly to investigate hate crimes against Muslims, but are quick to publicize anti-terrorism efforts.
“We live in a city where the mayor and the Police Department say Muslims are a threat to New York,” Awad said.
Police Deputy Inspector Thomas Kavanagh attended the entire rally along with two community affairs officers. Two additional officers monitored the group from the other side and a few officers came and went throughout the event.
Kavanagh had no comment in response to statements made against the NYPD.
There have been three publicized acts of violence against Queens Muslims — or those perceived to be Muslim — during the last two months. On Nov. 21 a man stabbed a 70-year-old man in front of a Kew Gardens Hills mosque. The suspect allegedly made anti-Muslim statements to the victim and placed threatening phone calls to the mosque before committing his crime, according to CAIR.
Three days later two men severely beat a Corona man. They asked him if he identified himself as either Hindu or Muslim. When he said he was Muslim they beat him, Awad said.
The most recent hate crime occurred in Sunnyside, where Erika Menendez is charged with pushing Hindu Sunando Sen, a small business owner originally from India, into the path of an oncoming No. 7 train. Menendez allegedly said she did it because he was Muslim and “I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers.”
A close friend and neighbor of Sen’s spoke to the crowd on Tuesday.
“I saw and talked with Sunando just moments before the incident,” Ranjit De Roy said. “He was a quiet and gentle man who never harmed anyone. How many more lives must we lose to this racism?”
De Roy added that since the incident he looks over his shoulder while in the subway. Other attendees agreed with his sentiment of fear.
Anti-Muslim advertisements placed in 10 New York City subway stations by Pamela Geller, founder of Stop the Islamization of America, was also a speaking point.
Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York Chloe Breyer said she supports freedom of speech, but asked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “Is this really the moment for this? Is this what we want menacing us from the subways walls?”
She posed two more questions — one to leaders of all faiths asking if their sermons preach tolerance and one to the NYPD asking if surveillance of mosques is an effective practice or just a short-term fix.
“It is ongoing and biased governmental policies, such as pervasive surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York City Police Department, which not only violate civil rights, but also create the environment for these incidents to take place,” Racial and Immigrant Rights Organizer at DRUM Kazi Fouzia said.
The gathering ended with residents holding candles in a circle to remember those who have been victims of a hate crime.