By Andy Nystrom
As Eastside police chiefs and others gathered at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) on Jan. 10, something was missing. The sign at the front of the Redmond mosque still hadn’t been replaced after it was recently vandalized twice.
Aneelah Afzali, executive director of MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network), said they plan to secure a new sign in place soon. She said she hopes it will remain intact.
The MAPS sign was one of the reasons why the law-enforcement officials took part in the Eastside Muslim Safety Forum, which was co-hosted by the police departments and the Muslim Community and Neighborhood Association.
“With the backing of all law-enforcement officers, we have nothing to fear,” Mahmood Khadeer of MAPS told the crowd.
Redmond police chief Kristi Wilson led the discussion and was joined by fellow chiefs Michelle Bennett of Sammamish, Scott Behrbaum of Issaquah, Cherie Harris of Kirkland, Steven Mylett of Bellevue and Ed Holmes of Mercer Island.
Imam Sheikh Fazal of the Islamic Center of Eastside also spoke, noting that people should appreciate each other. During the forum, Mylett invited Fazal in front of the crowd and said that a crucial way for people to form a bond is to “shake hands, interact with each other and reduce the fear.”
During the evening, the chiefs also touched upon crime prevention, personal safety, the Washington state hate crime law, active-shooter preparedness and King County immigration policies.
Hate crimes were the topic of several written questions from the crowd that were addressed at the end of the night. With all the chiefs nodding their heads in approval, Mylett said that his department denounces people spouting hate messages and will bring them to justice. Bennett said she will not allow hate speech in her community, and encourages people to stand up for others if they’re being bullied.
In an earlier Reporter article, Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington state — who attended Tuesday’s forum — said in 2015 that his organization received the highest number of reported anti-Muslim hate crimes ever, about one to two daily and more than 700. He said they expected to have the same numbers when the 2016 statistics were released.
Holmes discussed immigration policies and public trust during his time on the microphone, noting that he aims to bond with community members. He said that his department prohibits officers from asking citizens’ immigration status during police contact, and it was later noted that all Eastside departments follow that same guideline.
The Mercer Island chief added that his department and the other chiefs’ staffs want to treat residents fairly and with dignity and respect. He wants people to feel safe in their communities.
Redmond’s Wilson completed the forum by noting that she was humbled to be part of the panel and invited into the mosque for the evening.
“This starts a positive dialogue and opens channels in building trust and relationships in the community,” she said.