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Arab American Police Officers Maintain Integrity Despite Bullying

posted on: May 4, 2016

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BY: Julia Kassem/Contributing Writer

In 2014, Dearborn-headquartered “Arab American News” reported that only 7 out of 184 police officers were Arab American; just shy of 4 percent. Since that time, numerous efforts to recruit more Arab Americans, or “local job candidates,” emerged from the Dearborn police department, in order to disassociate itself with the city’s past entrenchment with institutional racism.

Ali Harb, journalist for the Arab American News, told Arab America, “In the past year and a half, a total of four officers quit. And they happen to be Arab.”

The conundrum of Arabs and police service became especially salient following two shootings that took place within the city’s borders. The first was the shooting of Kevin Matthews, an unarmed Detroit man, in December of 2015. The second was Janet Wilson, a Detroit resident shot multiple times in January of 2016 after trying to allegedly run over officers with a vehicle. While there isn’t a direct correlation between these incidences of police brutality and the departure of the four officers, both issues evidently stem from institutional racism; a dual disservice to both communities.

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” This was Muhammad Ali’s answer to his refusal to serve in the military during the Vietnam War, a sentiment that reflects the conflict shared by many minorities serving in institutions and communities, such as local police forces, that are blemished by a history of racism and prejudice.

The issues between residents in conflict with police in these local minority communities echo the greater nationwide concerns of police brutality and institutional racism in law enforcement. These racial tensions put Arabs in a compromising position because they have a long history of serving this country, such as their indelible contributions to the armed forces from World War I to the Iraq War, but at the same time are pigeonholed as the nation’s political antagonists.

These racist attitudes were reflected in the treatment some Arab American officers received by the Dearborn police department. “It was a hostile environment, a lot of bullying,” reported one of the former police officers.

In Dearborn, the incidents between the deaths of the two Detroit residents and the departure of the four officers are not necessarily correlated. To the contrary, Dearborn residents are overwhelmingly supportive of their law enforcement. At a local level, Arab Americans nationwide are generally supportive of their community’s police departments. Numerous studies, like a study by the Vera Institute of Justice from 2006, have shown favorable and harmonious relations between municipal agencies and Arab American constituents.

Arab American Police Officers Maintain Integrity Despite Bullying
Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad

This is especially true in Dearborn, a city whose residents show their support for local authorities through profile pictures boasting, “I Support Dearborn PD,” as well as positive comments on the city’s community member Facebook page. Even amongst Dearborn Police’s disgruntled staff, none reported brutality characteristic of the nation-wide epidemic.

“There wasn’t a hostile attitude towards civilians,” said Harb of the officers sentiments. Despite the department being led by Chief Officer Ron Haddad, an Arab American, the impact of racist and discriminatory attitudes continues to have its effect both locally as it does nationally.

A statement by Arab American Officer Ray Essa, having worked for Dearborn police for 15 years, reflected nothing short of praise for his department. “[The] controversy the last few days makes me want to speak up and say that Dearborn Police is a community-oriented, service-minded, trustworthy, intelligent, and enthusiastic department.”

Much like how the experiences of one individual cannot negate those of others, the experiences of an entire community can be radically removed from the reality of others. Although Dearborn residents may not show criticism for their local law enforcement, this does not mean that the department’s internal discrimination and undue brutality does not exist.

The pattern of institutional and systemic suspicion and racism toward Arab Americans, too, transcends, those relegated to a single community. The New York Police Department’s implementation of search and frisk policies that have overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Latinos runs in tandem to the agency’s launch of its “Demographics Unit,” a department that surveilled and spied on American Muslims in the New York City area. Though local experiences are positive, they cannot speak for the national trend of systematic hostility toward marginalized communities.

The integrity of service becomes jeopardized when the institutions that are supposed to protect their citizens from violence and injustice otherwise resort to perpetuating oppression. Just as Latinos and Blacks are righteously indignant in response to police brutality, Arab and Muslim Americans, too, should be cognizant and confrontational against the instances of surveillance and profiling in their communities. While it is a duty for immigrants and minorities, like all Americans, to serve and protect their country, it is imperative that the rights of these minorities are first protected and respected.