Local Muslims can sleep tonight knowing that the Los Angeles Police Department will not be mapping them. LAPD Chief William Bratton announced that he scrapped a plan to create and use a database of Muslims in the city – although he has yet to put his verbal pledge on paper. After a two hour meeting between the LAPD and representatives from southern California’s Muslim Community and ACLU, Bratton addressed reporters at a press conference and acknowledged that the mapping component of what he calls the LAPD’s Community Engagement Initiative “will not be going forward”. A coalition of inter-faith, civil rights and social justice groups quickly organized to condemn the plan, then met with the LAPD and were successful in halting the ill-conceived proposal. Deputy Chief Michael Downing first authored the plan, and news of it spread after Downing testified before Congress that law enforcement around the nation face what he called “a vicious, amorphous and unfamiliar adversary on our land.”
Downing’s words and actions are eerily reminiscent of the way Japanese-Americans were scapegoated during World War II, when more than 100,000 of them were placed in concentration camps. In his book “Strangers from a Different Shore”, historian Ronald Takaki writes that “Representing a small, rather than numerically significant racial minority, the Japanese were more vulnerable to xenophobic attacks.” Takaki could easily be writing about Muslims today, and with an eternal so-called War on Terror, I wonder long Muslims will remain susceptible to programs like these. When asked to clarify the origin of the plan, Downing said that he traveled to West Yorkshire, England, where a community mapping program is already in place. Why tax money is being spent to travel across the Atlantic to observe big-brother programs in the UK is baffling enough – but the fact that such a program has already taken hold there is stunning.
Back at home in Los Angeles, Downing reached out to USC’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (which got a $12 million cornerstone and continues to be funded by the Department of Homeland Security) to track and turn over maps of Muslims in the city. When I spoke to Shakeel Syed from The Southern California Shura Council about the relationship between USC and the LAPD he pointed out that it’s “a convergence of academia and law enforcement in creating laws that are pre-crime laws… becoming a thought police”, and it’s quite true. This amalgam of the international scope of the so-called War on Terror, federal enforcement programs, academia and local initiatives is a simply terrifying experiment that has resulted in religious and racial profiling.
We’ll see how the LAPD moves forward from this issue after so much damage has already been done. It’s never clear to me what the LAPD is thinking or doing, and why (while South Asian and Muslim communities continue to struggle against hate crimes, discrimination, negative media portrayals, and general misunderstanding) the Department would create such a proposal. Chief Bratton has already said that the intent was to get to know these communities, and went on to acknowledge that these groups are already under siege. Maybe in the future Bratton can create a round-table of inter-faith representatives to avoid these types of scenarios in the future. Wait! He already did, it’s called The Forum of Religious Advisors, and Shakeel Syed is a already a member… yet he was never informed about the proposal. Let’s hope even more surprises from the LAPD for minority communities are not in store.