Advocacy group tells Muslims to know their rights when talking to police

10/03/11 Janelle Irwin
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The Tampa Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, has received a startling number of complaints from members of the Muslim community claiming they have been harassed by the FBI. In a workshop yesterday residents were taught how to handle encounters with law enforcement.

Hassan Shibly, executive director for CAIR’s Tampa chapter, said harassment has always been an issue, but the frequency of Muslims being hassled by law enforcement has increased.

"We’ve received calls from various, a lot of prominent Muslim community members, people who never expected to be harassed by the government, starting to have the FBI right at their door step and being questioned. One got delayed from getting on a flight until the FBI came and questioned him. And we really feel that opens people to criminal liability when they’ve done nothing wrong."

Shibly said some people say too much to police officers because they have nothing to hide. But in an environment where Muslims are often presumed guilty just because of their religion, he says being careful is important.

"Obviously, you know, the police get away with doing a lot of things to people that don’t know their rights. Why? Because they don’t stand up and they don’t protect. And we’ve seen, I mean you tube these days, the advent of social media you see many instances of police brutality and abuse. And again there’s a lot of good. We don’t want it to look like we’re just focusing on the negative, but we have to focus on the negative so we can prevent the negative."

He added, it would be unpatriotic to not stand up for your rights.

"But if a cop just sees you walking down the street and you’re not wanted, there’s no warrant for you, he can’t stop you and force you to empty your pockets. But he can ask you to. And if you say, ‘sure thing boss’ and you empty your pockets, than you’ve given up that right."

Noreen is a Muslim mother and wife with concerns similar to other parents. She worries about social media’s impact on her children, what they’re going to eat for lunch and whether they’re getting enough exercise. But Noreen has other worries too, like giving out her last name. She said you never know when there could be a problem.

"I worry about the freedoms of my children. I mean, what they’re going to have to face down the road. I mean, if we don’t look at the issues now, and deal with them now, they’re just going to get bigger and bigger. And then, by the time they’re adults, I’m just worried about what type of infringements they’ll have on their freedom as Muslim-Americans."

Shibly instructed the handful of participants how to handle interaction with law enforcement officers. He said don’t answer questions without a lawyer and don’t let them into your home without a warrant. He also warned against being tricked.

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