Law Enforcement Used as Weapons against Black Muslims

NEW YORK – A surge of videos and news stories about calls to law enforcement on Blacks at various service establishments highlights a stark reality for Black Muslim and non-Muslims in the US.

Protests erupted in Philadelphia after the release of a video of the arrest of two Black men at a local Starbucks for sitting in the coffee shop while they waited for their friend. Management called the police because the men did not immediately order, which is not uncommon.

A couple of days later, a video of two Black male LA Fitness members surrounded by six police officers circulated social media.

The gym manager called the police after both men clarified that they swiped their membership cards. When police arrived, the men once again swiped their cards, but the manager revoked their membership and told them to leave. They were not arrested.

A Kansas City firefighter who spat on a 3-year-old, used racial slurs, and threatened the victim’s grandfather at Hooters was not arrested. Instead, the manager called the police on the assaulted family and threw them out of the restaurant.

Starbucks, LA Fitness and Hooters all apologized, but the incidents reflect a disturbing dynamic of American society, wherein there is an increased likelihood for the recruitment of law enforcement as agents of intimidation against Black bodies—sometimes with potentially deadly consequences.

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To Protect and Serve?

US Blacks maintain a profound distrust of the police stemming from decades of disproportionate brutality and death at the hands of law enforcement.

Black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police, and there is little accountability. Consequently, they have a comparatively lower tendency to call on law enforcement compared to Whites.

Professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School Khalil Gibran Muhammad explains, “White people, by and large, do not know what it is like to be occupied by a police force. They don’t understand it because it is not the type of policing they experience. Because they are treated like individuals.”

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Police Brutality on Muslim Bodies

Black Muslims are not insulated from police violence in the US, and they frequently face layers of it extending from racism and Islamophobia.

“The first link is conceptual,” professor of American Culture and Arab and Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer explained to AboutIslam, “police violence, is a form of racial control built on the idea that that Black people are less than or not human.

Likewise, anti-Muslim racism traffics in the notion that Muslim are less than human which justifies violence against them. The second link is procedural, as documented in Sohail Daulatzai’s book, Black Star Crescent Moon, and in recently-revealed FBI surveillance of BLM protesters, the same tactics the police use to target Black communities are used to target all Muslim communities.”

The death of Black Muslim Stephon Clark was the most recent to garner national attention.  However, he is one of a list of names of lives extinguished by law enforcement.

Black Muslims frequently find their liberty and lives jeopardized by law enforcement. Activist Marcus Allgood shared his experience of having a gun drawn on him at a traffic stop.

“I recall a couple of years ago while driving for Lyft, when Police Officer Garcia pulled his gun on me for making a left turn on a yellow light on Florence Ave in Los Angeles, California.

I put my hands on the steering wheel with my wallet on the dashboard. He walked up to my window screaming and yelling like I just robbed a bank.”

Threatening Lives

Religious director at the Middle Ground Muslim Center, Marc Manley told AboutIslam about deadly encounters he had with law enforcement despite having done nothing.

When he was living in Madison, WI, Manely was walking down the street after playing basketball when two police officers pulled up to him in their squad car and jumped out. Manely told AboutIslam that the officers pointed their guns and commanded him to get on the ground.

“I was minding my business—just walking down the street. They start yelling at me with their guns pointed at my head. You freeze; you don’t know what to do.

They handcuffed me and put me in the back of the car.”

The officers told Manely that he fit the description of a suspect in a store robbery, but released him when they received information that someone else was apprehended—a White male with a blond ponytail and whose height was markedly shorter than Manely’s, who had his hair styled in an afro.

Manely was also threatened with a firearm by an armed security guard while waiting for a prescription to be filled at a Walgreens in South Philadelphia.

“I started looking at some magazines. Next thing I know, I hear someone yelling ‘drop the magazine!’

He had on a security jacket, but I could see his Philadelphia police badge, and I knew a lot of cops worked security when off duty.

He had one hand on his sidearm and ordered me to get on the ground. “

The pharmacist went over the counter and told the guard that she was filling Manely’s prescription and threatened to call the store manager to have the guard removed.

“If it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve gotten shot, because the dude was ready to shoot me.

“I had been in the store like these two other brothers [in Starbucks]. White people come in and out. They read the magazines; they don’t order coffee right away, and they’re cool to sit in there and do whatever.

One Black person comes in and doesn’t immediately order coffee or happens to pick up a magazine, and a firearm is drawn.”

The targeting and biased treatment of Blacks in America situates law enforcement as a weapon of subjugation instead of an agency with the primary objective to protect and serve. It also reveals the diminished liberty of the country’s Black citizenry.

“It’s a culture of intimidation,” Manley told AboutIslam. “If I see a cop, I will try to go in the opposite direction. I want no interaction with the police, and I am a Black man that has no criminal record and a very clean driving record.

“We live in total fear and anxiety of the police.”