DeKalb County officials Thursday reached out to Muslim leaders in an effort to build stronger relationships and trust.
“We hoped to hear from the authorities that they are here for our safety and they want to listen to our concerns,” said Abu Muhammad al-Maghribi, of Masjid Tawheed in Stone Mountain and one of more than 30 people who attended the meeting.
He said it was long overdue, but it “was a good start and we’re going to try to keep it going… Islam teaches us to be good neighbors.”
DeKalb Public Safety Director Cedric Alexander said he hoped the meeting would serve as a role model across the nation.
“We will have an opportunity to talk about things that will keep all of us safe, our communities safe and to dismiss a lot of these myths and biases and hateful speech that we have heard that comes into many of our lives everyday.”
Flanked by a group of Muslims leaders, Alexander said during a press conference that “we love this country. We all see ourselves as Americans.”
He said an outgrowth could be a task force that looks at challenges with the Muslim community “that we can address and get ahead of.”
The meeting at DeKalb police headquarters in Tucker lasted nearly an hour and included Muslim leaders and community members and county law enforcement officials. Both sides plan additional meetings.
It all comes in wake of an attack in San Bernardino in which 14 people were killed by what authorities describe as a “radicalized” husband and wife and as GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has proposed a ban on Muslims coming to this nation.
The hope is that this will be a two-way street.
Authorities asked the Muslim leaders to be vigilant about people in their community who might become radicalized and attempt to commit violence and to inform them of any incidents of harassment.
At the same time, Muslims leaders complained of situations where all Muslims are seen as “terrorists” and asked law enforcement to be aware of the community’s safety concerns, particularly after an uptick in hate rhetoric.
Imam Emeritus Plemon El-Amin of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam said the meeting was good for both sides. “It was basically how we can help each other.” He said there is a big concern in the Muslim community about reprisals after the California attacks and what appears to be an increase in Islamophobia.
“You go on the internet and there’ so much of it,” he said. “It’s based on fear and ignorance.”