Statement of Philosophy
Muslim American Society of Minnesota is a grass roots organization. We care about our local communities. As such we support community policing. The police should ideally be part of the community they are policing and should partner with the community to solve problems as they arise.
The founders of this nation chose to localize police functions and not create a national police force. We see a lot of wisdom in that decision. We do not support profiling, spying and entrapment actions undertaken by various law enforcement agencies as reported by the media. Such actions are unconstitutional and the judgment of history will award such actions the shame and outrage they deserve. Despite such concerns, we cannot walk away from engagement with our government and agencies.
A Wake-Up Call
The Muslim American Society of Minnesota’s involvement with community policing dates back to 2004. A heinous crime occurred where a Muslim immigrant woman was raped in the corridor of the apartment complex where she lived. Security camera footage showed for more than half an hour, her neighbors ignored her screams for help. No one intervened. No one called the police.
Like her, most of her neighbors were newly arrived Muslim immigrants whose only prior interaction with police in refugee camps was negative.
Galvanized by this wake-up call, MAS MN reached out to the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) to launch a community policing initiative. We agreed to introduce community police to the local community through structured events. We hoped the Muslim community would be better protected and police would be better able to serve the local community if a positive understanding was built between them.
Community Policing – Doing it Right
Building upon this grass roots work, SPPD partnered with MAS MN on a two-year police outreach program funded by a federal grant. This project sought to partner the local Somali and Muslim community with the police. MAS MN conducted various open house events and workshops. Muslim parents and youth asked their local police officers questions about issues relevant to the community. SPPD officers offered presentations on topics such as detecting drug use in families and countering gang activity in neighborhoods. Trainings offered by MAS MN helped police officers understand the Muslim community better.
At the end of the two-year grant, it was widely reported as a success, as demonstrated by the reduction of violent crime, reduced arrests, increases in the community’s perception of safety, and greater coordination between police officers and the Muslim community.
Countering Surveillance Concerns in Community Policing
Upon completion of the first grant, the SPPD unsuccessfully sought various grants to resume the community policing project with MAS MN.
In response to Minnesota youth traveling abroad to join al-Shabab, “countering radicalization” became a buzzword in the federal government.
In 2008, SPPD wrote another grant initiative with several other partners, including Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Attorney’s Office, St Paul Intervention Project, the Young Women’s Christian Center, and MAS MN as partners. The project was titled African Immigrant Muslim Coordinated Outreach Program (AIMCOP) and was funded in 2009. It sought, among other objectives, to provide youth pathways to prevent them from becoming “radicalized.”
From the outset, MAS MN expressed concerns over the participation of the FBI in a community policing initiative, especially in light of numerous media accounts of FBI misconduct and entrapment. Eventually, MAS MN adopted certain guidelines and agreed to participate in the project within this scope. The MAS MN guidelines were as follows:
- MAS MN seeks to participate in community policing with local law enforcement agencies. National law enforcement agencies are not typically considered part of the local community and are not natural partners in community policing.
- MAS MN leaders are willing to dialogue with national law enforcement agencies, but MAS MN is not willing to introduce or expose them to our community.
- All law enforcement officers that interact with the community through MAS MN activities under the grant shall be uniformed officers.
- MAS MN shall not turn over lists of attendees, participants or members to any law enforcement agencies. MAS MN shall collect only summary level attendance date (number of people attended, not names).
- MAS MN shall not endorse any events not conducted by MAS MN, nor invite the community to any activity in the grant not conducted by MAS MN. All MAS MN activities shall have a MAS MN staff or volunteer present at ALL times to monitor the event.
Cautiously Continuing Community Policing
Subject to these guidelines, MAS MN participated in the AIMCOP project. AIMCOP had many components that did not involve MASMN such as women in domestic violence situations, and youth activities at the local YWCA. MAS MN’s only component in the AIMCOP program was the continuation of the community police outreach program. Less than 10% of the grant was for functions provided by MAS MN.
AIMCOP events were identical in nature to events under the previous project. During the two-year project, MAS MN conducted two or three meetings a month, at various locations, where attendance fluctuated from 6 to 40 people. Initially the program introduced youth and families to their local police force. Then the program moved on to other topics such as: the importance of staying in school; warnings signs of youth gang involvement; common signs of youth substance abuse; and an exciting session on explosives with the bomb removal robot. SPPD and Ramsey County Sheriff deputies in attendance were always in uniform.
When asked for attendance records MAS MN provided numbers of people attended but declined to provide lists or names.
- Working with law enforcement agencies is a balancing act. When police engage in inappropriate activities we speak out against these either behind the scenes or publicly as appropriate. But still, Muslim organizations have to engage with law enforcement.
- We support police outreach programs, as long as the law enforcement agency is forthright and sincere with the community.
- Muslim organizations must be skeptical of intelligence gathering efforts before they join any initiative.
- Muslim organizations must obtain assurances that the programs they endorse will not be used as intelligence gathering tools. Written assurances are sufficient for law enforcement agencies that have not engaged in spying and entrapment. Agencies that have a track record of spying and entrapment bear the onus of convincing the Muslim community.
- Internal guidelines must be created for Muslim organizations to deal with these issues before they engage with law enforcement agencies.
- We support after-school programs, mental health counseling, and sports activities for the youth as a means to better communities. Such service programs are not appropriate law enforcement functions.
- Teaching Islam correctly prevents youth from radicalization. This is the function of Islamic scholars, leaders and organizations. This is not a police function.
Links to the media articles on this subject can be found here:
- Letter by MAS and other Partners about CVE: https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141218_cve_coalition_letter_2.pdf
- Spies Among Us: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/21/spies-among-us-community-outreach-programs-muslims-blur-lines-outreach-intelligence/
- Muslims fear anti-terror program could spy on their communities. http://www.mprnesws.org/story/2015/01/30/anti-terror-program