Community Defense in the Wake of New Zealand

March 27th, 2019

Dear Community Members and Leaders:
In light of the attacks on two mosques in New Zealand by a white supremacist, there has been a push to invite agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and local law enforcement into our mosques without addressing the ongoing history of profiling, surveillance, entrapment, and infiltration that has negatively impacted Muslim communities.  As a group of community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and grassroots organizations whose work focuses on surveillance, civil liberties, and state violence against Muslims and other “suspect communities,” we are deeply concerned that these efforts will give law enforcement and intelligence agencies greater access to our masjids. Instead of building actual community safety, we are concerned these efforts may result in increased surveillance and further targeting of our masjids and institutions by law enforcement. Moreover, we are concerned that members of our communities who are at greater risk of being targeted by law enforcement agencies — for example, folks who are undocumented, disabled, returning citizens, and/or working class — may be at increased risk and may not feel safe at all attending mosques. Therefore, we are asking community members to raise these concerns and look into alternative models of community defense with leadership, and in consultation with impacted Muslim communities, in order to identify effective strategies to promote the safety of masjids, community centers and congregations.

While we recognize the high importance of masjids and community faith-based spaces having systems of security and protection, we must also be mindful of how law enforcement agencies profile and target Muslims, and who in our communities is most negatively impacted. For example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Hometown Security program is being recommended by numerous Muslim organizations as a resource for the community to conduct active shooter trainings. At the same time, under their Hometown Security program, and in their recommendations under their Connect, Plan, Train and Report plan, DHS encourages institutions to report any suspicious activity into their “If You See Something, Say Something” (SARS) program. This program has led to the legitimization of the targeting of Muslims and has resulted in reports such as one obtained from the ACLU in which a sergeant from a local California police department reported a Middle Eastern man who is “very unfriendly.”

Moreover, the SARS program has been heavily critiqued by organizations like the ACLU for furthering the profiling of communities of color. In addition, because of the collaboration that exists among agencies tasked with national security, data reported through SARS risks being shared with fusion centers, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and the Director of National Intelligence. This fact means that innocuous “threats” will travel from agency to agency and potentially lead to increased surveillance and infiltration of our communities.  Moreover, none of these agencies have acknowledged their problematic role in targeting Muslims while at the same time, for example recommending that faith-based organizations work with fusion centers.

DHS is not the only agency that the Muslim community has reached out to in spite of their problematic role in the War on Terror.  Many have also solicited help from the FBI with a host of asks including that they examine the rise of White “extremism” and that they take additional steps to protect the Muslim community. Unfortunately, appeals for help from the FBI are troubling in light of the extensively documented use of informants in our communities, including as documented in the case of Fazaga v. FBI – which challenges FBI’s illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of mainstream mosques. Moreover, post-9/11, the use of informants has dramatically increased and ballooned to over 15,000 “official” informants – the majority of whom have been employed to surveil the Muslim community specifically.  As a result, there have been numerous cases of entrapment such as the case of the Fort Dix Five and that of Khalifah Ali Al-Akili, who was the subject of the documentary (T)error.

As long as these institutions have existed, they have targeted Muslims. They offer ostensibly protective services to our communities and may thereby gain increased access. Muslims have historically been singled out as needing to accept law enforcement within our religious spaces. However, when we ask that these institutions protect us, or even ask them to fight white supremacy, it can — dangerously — give them cover to continue discriminating against Muslims. (For example, programs like Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) will never effectively address white supremacy).

Therefore, we are asking our communities to consider alternative models of safety rather than turning to the agencies who have a long history of profiling, surveillance, and harassment of Muslim communities. Community oriented security models were created to address the needs of communities who are also targeted by the state. Below, we share some resources on this topic.

In addition, because we believe that our communities deserve safety, protection, and security whether the threat is from white nationalism or law enforcement, we are asking organizations to sign on to this letter to demonstrate a commitment to considering alternative models of community defense.

Signed:
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT)
Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)
Project South
Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans
National Immigration Law Center
Sakhi for South Asian Women
AFSC Twin Cities Healing Justice
Muslim Youth Collective
American Friends Service Committee
NYCLU
DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving
Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)
CAIR-AL
Arab American Association of New York
Vigilant Love
HEART
Center for Constitutional Rights
Muslims for Social Justice
Georgetown Law Muslim Law Students’ Association
About Face: Veterans Against the War
Adhikaar

Resources:

      1. The Chain Reactionhttp://www.alternativestopolicing.com/media
      1. US Mosques Security in the Wake of New Zealand
      1. Building Community Safety!
      1. Developing Alternatives to Policing in the Arab and Muslim Community
      1. Community Safety Guiding Questions After Tree of Life
      1. Community Safety Tips & Plans
      1. Why CVE Programs Won’t Stop White Supremacists
    1. SARS Infographic – AAAN