When the Vanguard set up the weekly video discussion on the Islamic Center of Davis incident, the latest incident had not yet occurred.
CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) Civil Rights Attorney, Saad Sweilem, told the Vanguard on Thursday evening that there is a possibility the two incidents which occurred last Friday are connected. As he pointed out, the Quran in Sacramento had its pages ripped out and filled with bacon. The Quran in Davis had pieces of the Quran scattered about the street and it seems logical to think that they may have used the same Quran for both incidents.
The biggest point of departure was over what to do with Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, who was granted five years of probation after admitting to breaking windows and placing bacon on a door handle of the Islamic Center of Davis back in January.
One of the participants was Kate Mellon-Anibaba, who had been a key organizer of the Central Park vigil back in late January after the initial incident.
She said, “I know I’m going to sound a little harsh, but this is my true feeling.” She said, “In the same way Act for America was able to hide its message for white supremacy and Islamophobia behind the March Against Sharia, I think that Lauren was able to hide her white terrorism behind her white privileged feminism.
“That really struck me,” she said.
She added, “Concern for her mental state should be second to our concern for our Muslim community. I’m not willing to roll the dice on my black Muslim child’s safety and others in this community in order to rehabilitate a homicidal racist individual.”
Ms. Mellon-Anibaba continued, “She had opportunities. She grew up like me, she grew up almost three streets away from where I grew up. I grew up in Davis.” She noted that Kirk-Coehlo had a college education at a prestigious university and other good opportunities. “She had those options. I would be more sympathetic if she (were) in a backwoods kind of place getting spoon fed Fox news every day.
“She needs to have consequences,” Mellon-Anibaba said. “I just feel that the tone wasn’t set for what it needed to be in this town.
“What if she had been black? What if she had been Muslim and done this to a church?” she asked. “Why are we starting with rehabilitating her, why not non-violent drug offenders who are black and brown in our prison system?”
She said if Kirk-Coehlo had been Muslim and had done this to a church, “there would have been significant jail time and it would have gone differently.” She concluded, “I think she is hiding behind a privileged white mask.”
Saad Sweilem was clearly conflicted in his view. On the one hand, clearly he is concerned for the impact on the Islamic Community. However, he had previously worked for a time as a public defender in Contra Costa County and clearly was not a believer in the criminal justice system or prison as an instrument to correct behavior.
He told the panel, “As a civil rights organization, (CAIR) is all for restorative justice. We push for that whenever we think it’s right.” He also said that, with regard to hate crimes, they often represent the perfect opportunity for restorative justice.
“Personally I’m all for restorative justice even in this case,” Mr. Sweilem said. “But I understand where the community is coming from, there’s voices from all different areas.”
In his view, what made it so difficult is that “there was no apology” and “there was no sort of remorse.” He was also bothered by her defense attorney “who tried to use an Islamophobic defense at her sentencing.”
He talked about “her thinking she was acting as feminist.” He explained, “What that actually does is push forward Islamophobia.”
Kate Mellon-Anibaba pointed out that “there’s Muslim feminists, she could have raised their voices up if she had problems.”
Mr. Sweilem continued, “It just pushes that false narrative that feminism and Islam are not compatible.” He said this narrative “made it really difficult.”
He pointed out that “a felony conviction is pretty much going to ruin her career.” He added, “A felony conviction isn’t a joke, on its own.” He said, “I just wish that (she) and her attorney came out apologetic, came out saying this was wrong.
“This wasn’t even the time for it,” he said, referring to the feminist defense. “The Muslim religion is very loving and our whole religion is about mercy.” Mr. Sweilem added, “I think if (she) and her attorney had come out (apologetically), the Muslim community would have said okay.”
Kate Mellon-Anibaba pointed out, “The minute that it happened, Hamza came up to me and said I wish I could talk to her. I wish I could have had her over to dinner with my wife…and made her feel at home and made her feel safe.”
Mr. Sweilem said had she come out and apologized it would have been much easier for the Muslim community to move forward.
Mayor Robb Davis reiterated the point that, if it had been a person of color, “if it was a Muslim doing this to a church, I have no doubt that the outcome would have been different.
“The brokenness of our punitive system was fully on display in the way this was handled,” the mayor said. “Our criminal justice system is broken and people are afforded rights and privileges based on not just race, class…people who have few means are not afforded the same privilege as those who have more.
“My disappointment was greatest because I knew that the victims left that room with their needs not really being given any consideration,” he said. That is consistent of a system where “victims are used as props. They’re kind of paraded before a jury and a judge to say, look at how they’ve suffered. But to me that’s not addressing their deepest needs.
“I think a reflection on the needs of the Islamic Community simply has no place in the system as it played out in the courtroom,” he said.
That being said, the mayor also stated, “To me, just because our system is unjust does that mean that injustice should be extended?” He said, “I don’t really know that incarceration achieves the end of preventing future acts.
“Everything I’ve read says our punitive justice system is not a deterrence system,” he added. “Sending her to jail, would that have deterred others, I’m not convinced it would.”
There was also a good discussion of restorative justice. Please watch the full hour long segment.
—David M. Greenwald reporting