In strategic shift, New York City reaches out to Muslim community

City officials are reaching out to the 800,000 Muslim residents amid increased tension following the high-profile terrorist attacks in Paris.

John Minchillo/AP/File
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a New York Police Academy graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden in New York, Dec. 29, 2014. In the aftermath of last month’s terror attacks in Paris, New York City not only bolstered security but quietly stepped up outreach efforts to its Muslim community. It aimed to calm fears about any hate-filled retaliation while trying to extend government services to a community that often has felt neglected.

In the aftermath of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, New York City officials are reaching out to Muslims residents, seeking to include a community that has long been ostracized following Islamist terror attacks. 

Many Muslim communities in the United States have experienced a backlash following the attacks in Paris, which were carried out by radical supporters of the Islamic State militant group. Mosques have received threats and individuals have expressed concerns about being seen in public with traditional Muslim garb for fear of becoming victims of hate crimes.

Officials in New York are making a concerted effort to assure the city's 800,000 Muslims that hate crimes will not be tolerated and that city officials are interested in fostering better relations with the Muslim community. The strategy is a marked departure from the city's response to the Sept. 11 attacks which included heightened surveillance of Muslim civilians and prompted criticism of racial profiling. 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to make the most high-profile and public move by the city administration to build relationships with the Muslim community by delivering a speech at an Islamic community center on Friday. The speech is part of an increased outreach program by the city to form working relationships with imams and the Muslim community. Staffers have been sent on regular visits to mosques and police officials have increased transparency and briefings to imams and community leaders on counterterrorism procedures being implemented in the city.

For some, the murky history of the city's interactions with the Muslim community makes it difficult to place much stock in the new promise.

"This is a community that has not always had the best relationship with city government," Marco Carrion, head of the mayor's community affairs unit, told the Associated Press. "Some have never seen a helpful government and welcomed us with open arms. But other times we face real resistance and mistrust."

Many community members remember the New York Police Department's aggressive investigations into Muslim communities following 9/11. The practice resulted in the arrests of homegrown terrorists, but opinion soured after it was revealed that the division had infiltrated mosques, Muslim student groups, and had investigated hundreds of innocent Muslim civilians.

Last year, following complaints of profiling, a team of NYPD detectives assigned to create databases tracking New York Muslims was disbanded.

These tactics have left some community members feeling like they have been unfairly targeted because of their religion.

“I don’t like the idea that regular everyday Muslims are being lumped together with terrorist,” Maryam Mohiuddina, a hijab-wearing American artist from Bangladesh who was visiting Brooklyn, told the Associated Press.

The city hopes that by making a concerted effort to foster relationships between officials and the Muslim community, local Muslims will feel more welcome and like less of a target.

The Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit organized a meeting between community leaders less than a week after the Paris attacks. Over 40 community leaders were involved, with the majority of the from the Muslim Community.

The NYPD has used its Community Affairs Bureau to staff street festivals and provide services to accident victims to foster better relationships and help make all New Yorkers, including Muslims, feel more comfortable around police. Staffers and other members of the mayor’s office have also spent time with imams.

There have been 14 hate crimes against Muslims in 2015, a 39 percent decrease from last year, according to NYPD statistics.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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