LAPD following a map to nowhere

By Sujay Kumar

In 1942, Executive Order 9066 enabled the U.S. government to forcibly move more than one hundred thousand people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to deserted areas in arid southwestern states. More than half of these people were U.S. citizens.

Sixty-five years later, on Oct. 30, in front of a U.S. Senate committee, The Los Angeles Police Department presented a plan to map the city’s Muslim communities. The counter-terrorism bureau is in the early stages of planning to identify the city’s predominantly Muslim neighborhoods to understand which are at risk of “violent, ideologically based extremism.”

The head of the counter-terrorism bureau, Michael P. Downing, said that specifically, the LAPD wants to know where Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens are, so they can “reach out to those communities.”

The proposal has sparked debate across the nation, as many are calling it a blatant form of religious profiling and a breach of civil rights, while others believe it is a necessary step in the fight against terror.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Muslim Advocates, the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Council on American Islamic Relations have joined together in a letter denouncing the LAPD plan as highly offensive.

The LAPD has said that the plan is not a form of profiling or targeting. Instead, after assembling data in cooperation with the University of Southern California’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, The LAPD will take “a deeper look at history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socioeconomic status and social interactions” of Muslims. In addition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council may work with the LAPD to ensure that civil liberties are not trespassed.

The plan itself, however, is inherently flawed. Critics say that it is based on European models of densely populated Muslim communities. In the United States, that’s just not the case. The Muslim population is far more spread out.

Furthermore, some Muslims in Southern California say that there are no clear cut “Muslim” neighborhoods. While some areas in question have heavy Middle Eastern populations, not all of the residents are Muslim.

In the United States, the Islamic population has been estimated at anywhere from two million to seven million people. There is a huge discrepancy between these numbers because by law, the U.S. Census Bureau and Immigration Services are prohibited from asking for religious affiliation. Instead, population estimates are derived from polls and religious institutions, hardly a fool-proof system.

In other words it’s unrealistic for the LAPD to think it can find and map all the Muslims in Los Angeles. But, if the LAPD were to somehow overcome these obstacles and pinpoint the size and location of all Southern California Muslim societies, there is still an unfortunate consequence of the plan. The LAPD is pointing its finger directly at the Muslim community and saying, “You may be a breeding ground for violent extremism, so we’re going to keep an eye on you.”

How are the people of Southern California who have integrated into American society and happen to live in one of the Islamic enclaves being mapped out by the LAPD supposed to react when they are suddenly the object of a counter-terrorism study?

The answer is that they will feel let down, singled-out and alienated by the very people who are supposed to protect them.

In a post -9/11 United States, the fight against terrorism treads carefully along the line between actions fueled by credible information and those by motivated by racial prejudices. There are wars being fought overseas and investigations at home and in foreign lands to hunt terrorists and thwart their plans. The intensity of these situations often blurs that line.

It is no secret that there are terrorists out there who believe in a radical, warped view of Islam, and harbor hatred toward America. But to win the War on Terror is it worth breaching the civil liberties and alienating a primarily peaceful religious community?

In this case, the LAPD decided that it was not. On Wednesday, a mere two weeks after the debate began, the plan was dumped.