According to the Los Angeles Times:
“The department’s counter-terrorism bureau proposed using U.S. census data and other demographic information to pinpoint Muslim communities and then reach out to them through social service agencies.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement:
“While I believe the department’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim communities were well intentioned, the mapping proposal has created a level of fear and apprehension that made it counterproductive.”
The Mayor of Los Angeles might be right in terms of the intentions. However, and this is my general problem with such things, I do not understand why people’s reaction to such proposals always seems to catch public officials by surprise.
The Muslim community in the US, which is quite different from its counterpart in Europe in terms of the level of integration into mainstream society and the general lack of extremism, is nevertheless very wary the possibility that they could be singled out for targets by hate groups and law enforcement.
Any plan that was well-intentioned would attempt to partner with mainstream Muslim groups and work with them if their goal is to “mitigate radicalization” as Police Chief Downing put it.
However, the Los Angeles Times suggested that this approach might not fit United States populations anyway.
“Some critics said the LAPD plan seemed based on the European experience of isolated and often-distressed Muslim enclaves, a model they said doesn’t apply to the United States, where the Muslim population is far more dispersed.”
When law enforcement attempts to introduce such programs without such partnerships, groups such as Muslims, but not limited to the Muslims, begin to fear the less than honorable intentions. They become suspicious, they stop trying to work with law enforcement.
“Downing and other LAPD officials have stressed for days that the mapping program was not a form of profiling or targeting but rather a way to better understand the Muslim community.
But until Wednesday, the department had stood by the effort and insisted that critics would accept the idea once officials could provide details.”
Again I have to ask they they were thinking here? If you want to get groups to cooperate–why do officials not communicate? These type of situations repeat themselves because public officials do not learn the lessons. These are not difficult lessons to learn. Unless of course your goal is not cooperation but rather surveillance.
What many civil liberty groups and other critics fear was that this was the first step to initiating some sort of surveillance on the Muslim population in Los Angeles. Such a fear would have sounded paranoid and delusional ten years ago, but now it does not seem so far-fetched given the realities of our world.
As an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times from a Long Beach State professor states:
“As a Los Angeles County resident, a scholar and a Jew with a good memory, I was shocked and horrified to read of the Los Angeles Police Department’s antiterrorism bureau program to map Muslim communities. The debate over security versus individual rights that was popularized in the wake of the USA Patriot Act and invoked in this case is, in my view, the wrong debate. Targeting identity communities to protect society from those minority subgroups that seek to do harm — as opposed to creating strategies to address criminal behavior — is both
morally repugnant and strategically misinformed.
Historically, mapping communities has been a precursor to actions against those communities. Why map if you aren’t going to try to act on the data collected?”
The strong outrage from the Muslim community and civil liberties groups forced a pullback of the policy. That is also a lesson to many that we do not have to sit back idly and merely accept injustice in our community. While for the most part this blog focuses on Davis, this is an issue that had to potential to have far-reaching impacts that could have affected our community as well. We need to be ever-vigilant that we do not sacrifice essential liberty for temporary security.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting