Is the Los Angeles Police Department snooping on Muslims?
Critics say a police counterterrorism effort to identify and map Muslim communities amounts to religious and racial profiling — investigating residents based on what they look like, or where they worship.
But city officials defended the effort Friday, depicting it as "community engagement" aimed at welcoming sometimes insular Muslim groups into all aspects of city life. It is about transparency, not clandestine surveillance, they said.
Police respect "the civil and human rights of Muslims," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing said objections are coming from people who "don't really understand what we are doing."
"We are not looking at individuals. We are looking at groups and communities," the chief said. Police want to be viewed as "trusted friends."
There are an estimated 500,000 Muslims in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. The Police Department is trying to identify the location of Muslim enclaves to determine which might be susceptible to "violent, ideologically-based extremism," Downing said Thursday.
The intent, he said, is to "reach out to those communities," including Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens.
Several Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sent Downing a letter expressing "grave concerns." It was signed by representatives of Muslim Advocates, a national association of Muslim lawyers; the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California; and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Singling out individuals for investigation, surveillance, and data-gathering based on their religion constitutes religious profiling that is just as unlawful, ill-advised and deeply offensive as racial profiling," the letter said.
Testifying before Congress in October, Downing said his bureau wanted to "take a deeper look at the history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socio-economic status and social interactions" of the city's Muslim communities.
Downing plans to meet with Muslim leaders Thursday.
Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said he would withhold judgment until hearing more from police next week.
"Muslims should be treated as partners, not suspects," he said.
Chief William Bratton said the initiative is intended to get officers into communities, meeting with people and learning the local landscape. [Link]
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