D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh is calling on the Metropolitan Police Department to create a liaison unit for the city’s Muslim community, much like those formed to improve relations with Asian, Hispanic, deaf and LGBT residents.
“For years the MPD’s special liaison branch has been the gold standard for how an urban police department can best support its local minority communities,” the Ward 3 Democrat said in a letter to interim Police Chief Peter Newsham. “The creation of a Muslim liaison unit will ensure that officers throughout the District are trained in best serving our Muslim population.”
She made the request after FBI statistics showed a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims from 2014 to 2015.
In a November report, the FBI documented 154 hate crimes against Muslims in 2014 and 257 in 2015. That is the highest number since 2001, when more than 480 hate crimes against Muslims were reported. Statistics for 2016 have not been released.
“Perhaps most importantly, the creation of this unit would make clear that MPD and our government officials stand against Islamophobia and on the side of our Muslim residents, workers and visitors,” Ms. Cheh said.
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Muriel Bowser, said she had not seen the letter but agreed that the city must make the Muslim community feel welcome.
“We know that since the [presidential] election, many minority and immigrant communities around the country have faced ugly incidents of violence and discrimination that can’t be ignored,” Mr. Harris said. “The mayor believes our city is safer when all our residents feel they can work with police to share information that helps solve crimes and stop incidents before they occur.”
He said Miss Bowser’s goal is to set a tone with minority communities that says, “We want to work with you to make our city safer and protect your human rights.”
D.C. police statistics show 11 religious hate crimes in 2016, five in 2015 and eight in 2014. The police department defines a hate crime as “any criminal act or attempted criminal act directed against a person based on the victim’s actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.”
The statistics don’t say which religion was targeted in the hate crimes, so it’s unclear how many were against Muslims. The police department did not respond to emails seeking more specific statistics.
Overall, the rate of hate crimes based on religion is lower than those based on sexual orientation, race and gender identity. In 2016, the city had 23 hate crimes based on sexual orientation, 15 on gender identity and 13 on race, according to police statistics.
Civil rights groups and Islamic religious leaders have worried that President Trump’s campaign calls to establish a registry for Muslims and to ban temporarily Muslim immigrants would incite violence against the those of the Islamic faith. Mr. Trump has since called for a ban on Muslims from countries known to harbor terrorists.
Two of the president’s Cabinet picks have distanced themselves from the creation of a Muslim registry. In his Senate confirmation hearing, attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions said a Muslim registry “would raise serious constitutional problems.”
Homeland Security Director John Kelly said at his confirmation hearing that he doesn’t agree with “registering people based on ethnicity or religion or anything like that.”
Ms. Cheh is calling for a Muslim liaison unit as the D.C. government prepares to deal with a president supported by only 4 percent of the city’s electorate.
Last week, Miss Bowser vowed to work with other mayors in pushing progressive policies, including shielding illegal immigrants, under the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress.
Regardless of actions the Trump administration takes, Ms. Cheh said, the city has a responsibility to show that it stands behind its Muslim community.
“The council and MPD must work together to ensure the safety of the approximately 13,000 Muslims who live in the District and make clear that attacks on our Muslim community will not be tolerated,” she said.