South Florida Muslims Meet With BSO Officials, Urge Collaboration

Crime Stoppers flier small.jpg
BSO gave out this Crime Stoppers flier at the meeting.
The men file in slowly to the meeting room at the Broward Sheriff's Office headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. "As-Salaam-Alaikum," they greet one another, shaking hands, smiling warmly at a Sunrise police officer they recognize from prayer services.

About 25 men are here, some wearing skull caps, others wearing police uniforms. The civilians represent mosques from all over South Florida -- Pompano, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Pembroke Pines, Cooper City. They gathered last Wednesday evening to meet the police officers from their towns.

It's the first meeting of its kind in Broward, organized by the Florida Muslim Congress, a group that promotes education and cooperation between Muslims and law enforcement officials. The goal is to help ordinary citizens understand terrorism laws and avoid being accidentally linked to extremists. Nezar Hamze, a member of the Florida Muslim Congress and executive director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, is leading tonight's meeting. "Our community leaders saw a need to deal with some serious issues," he says.

Hamze begins by asking the Muslim leaders to sit next to the police officers who work in their cities. Then a steady parade of BSO officials gives speeches about the sheriff's various outreach and volunteer programs -- the citizens police academy, the Law Enforcement Explorers Program for teenagers, citizens observer patrols, and Crime Stoppers.

At times, the speeches sound like a PR campaign for Sheriff Al Lamberti. Then the group is reminded of the reason they are here, the canyon of misunderstanding that often divides Muslims and cops. "Things we need to build up on are trust," Sgt. Rudolph Nesbitt says. "You don't trust me; I don't know you. The trust just isn't there."

Nesbitt, who is in charge of the sheriff's youth programs, recites his phone number for the crowd. Immediately, Jamil Rizvi, one of the Muslim leaders from Miami, invites all the cops to an upcoming barbecue his mosque is holding in C.B. Smith Park. The mood in the room shifts from cordial to something warmer.

As another sheriff's captain begins speaking about hate crimes, Sofian Abdelaziz Zakkout, the gray-bearded director of the American Muslim Association of North America in Miami, raises his hand. "I wish your department would do more about prevention," he says. When politicians bash Muslims, "that will lead to hate crimes."

Hamze announces a break for the evening prayer. The Muslims in the room stand and face Mecca, their heads down. When the meeting reconvenes, Commander Michael Calderin, head of Crimes Stoppers programs in Broward, gives the last speech of the night. He makes his position clear: "You're people of faith, and attacking you is attacking all of us," he says. "We're all on the same boat; we're on the same team."

Calderin turns to Hamze and invites him to appear on Lamberti's weekly radio show. Hamze raises an eyebrow, looking pleased but surprised. Later, Hamze will urge the crowd to sign up for the volunteer police programs. Calderin provides Crime Stoppers fliers in Arabic and Urdu for the men to display in their mosques.

 "Our doors are always open whenever you need to contact us," Calderin says.

In the back of the room, a lithe, gray-haired gentleman from the Islamic Center of South Florida rises from his seat. He speaks with grave urgency about the need to change "the face of Muslims in America."

"It lies with us," Ashraf Ali says. "All we have to do is work with them to get them to work with us. Please, let's show an interest and get them to work with us."

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It’s disappointing that authorities missed a wonderful teaching opportunity with such a warm and sharing audience. Enforcement of the laws in this country is ideally exercised equally without consideration of race, religion, or ethnicity. It should have been stressed that disorderly conduct, intimidation, and violence by anyone, including Muslims, is a breach that will be enforced. Violence justified by claims of insults to Islam is violence and illegal. Intimidation of those supporting Israel is intimidation and illegal. Attempting to silence free speech that does not advocate the violent overthrow of the government or whose purpose is to cause harm to others is likewise illegal.


If someone visited a public Christmas or Hanukah festival with shirts depicting Islamic symbols or text and violence and intimidation was directed at them because of their attire, this would be illegal and police would rightfully arrest the Christians or Jews that violated the law.


If one visited a public Islamic festival or gathering and wore shirts or symbols depicting Christian or Jewish symbols, and violence ensued because Muslims were disturbed because of the non-Islamic attire, it would be a transgression of the law if the Muslim perpetrators were not immediately arrested. In this country, enforcement of the law is like the blindfolded statue of Justice and is to be applied equally


Alas, the law enforcement community of Broward County missed a wonderful opportunity to help our Muslim friends understand that in the United States the law applies to everyone, even to those who may justify illegal actions by citing Holy Scriptures.


This stuff happens alot all over the country --you all just dont know.

That said, spying on the same Muslims you schmooze with (like NYPD does) will be counter productive. Save the spying and databases for actual cases please


refreshing and long overdue

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