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For NYC's Muslims, A New Kind Of Police Attention
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For NYC's Muslims, A New Kind Of Police Attention

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For NYC's Muslims, A New Kind Of Police Attention

For NYC's Muslims, A New Kind Of Police Attention
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A New York City police officer controls traffic on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. i

A New York City police officer controls traffic Friday, on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since 2001, the NYPD has made a concerted effort to reach out to the city's Muslims. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A New York City police officer controls traffic on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

A New York City police officer controls traffic Friday, on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since 2001, the NYPD has made a concerted effort to reach out to the city's Muslims.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Sept. 11 attacks eight years ago prompted the New York City Police Department to re-examine its relationship with the city's Muslims, who now make up close to 10 percent of its population. The NYPD hosts an annual Ramadan program, during which the police get to know members of the Muslim community and Muslims are free to speak their minds.

At the event earlier this month, there is not an empty seat in the NYPD's auditorium. NYPD brass, Muslim clerics and community members all stand and listen to the cadences of the call to prayer from the department's imam, Khalid Latif, who has been a chaplain with the police since 2003.

"And whether you show what is in your mind or conceal it, God calls you to account for it," the imam says.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly also greets the crowd, commenting on the large turnout.

Shifting Force

After Sept. 11, 2001, the department saw an opportunity. As a force long dominated by Irish Catholics and headed by a man named Kelly, it made a commitment to increase outreach to Muslim New Yorkers.

That outreach also meant diversifying within the department's own ranks. In the fall of 2001, hundreds of officers who spoke Arabic and other foreign languages saw their career prospects improve. These days, half of the incoming recruits are people of color, and they hail from 57 different countries.

In the auditorium, Bashir Jones lobbies for a Muslim public school holiday.

"During the month of Ramadan, it is a month of giving, love and compassion," he says. "And one of the best gifts the mayor can give the Muslims in New York City this year is to pass the bill — that the City Council and its members overwhelmingly signed off on — giving the children off for the Eid celebration."

This proposal is something Mayor Michael Bloomberg has expressed reservations about.

Despite the department's outreach there are controversies. A joint federal and NYPD sting operation that targeted four men from Newburgh, N.Y., who allegedly planned to bomb a synagogue prompted audience members to question if government informants were acting more as instigators. But the most common concerns are similar to those expressed by clerics of any faith preparing for a high-traffic holiday, like parking.

'The Saddest Day Of My Life'

At the Dawood Mosque in Brooklyn, shoes belonging to congregants are neatly tucked into a wall unit by the front door. Detective Ahmed Nasser, who heads the NYPD Community Affairs Muslim Liaison effort, has come to check in with the mosque's imam. Nasser came from Yemen when he was 20. He learned English, studied accounting and in 2000 fulfilled his dream of becoming a member of the NYPD. A year later came Sept. 11.

"It was the saddest day of my life," Nasser says. "My wife was taking my kids from school and she was called, 'You effing terrorist, go back to where you came from.' My wife was born in Brooklyn. It was really hard."

Nasser says something enduring came out of that crucible a sense that he was being embraced by something bigger than the prejudice his family experienced.

"My colleagues came to me and said, 'Do you have problems? Is everything OK with you? Do you need any help?' " Nasser says. "And I was touched by that. And that really made me feel I have brothers."

As Nasser speaks, there's a sudden rush of noise upstairs. The mosque's plumbing has failed and water is pouring from a burst pipe. Nasser comes up with a business card for a local plumber. It's not typical police work, but it is another small bridge between the city's police force and its Muslim population.

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