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Fairfax Police Step Up Protection for Muslims

 By Jackie Bong-Wright

Fairfax County police say they have long taken measures to encourage inter-ethnic harmony and to intervene in racially-motivated confrontations, and that they are stepping up these efforts in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The point was made forcefully by Fairfax County Chief of Police Colonel J. Thomas Manger at a September 20 press conference that also featured the heads of county agencies including Katherine Hanley of the Board of Supervisors, Jane Strauss of the School Board, Victor Dunbar of the Human Rights Commission, and Edward Stinnette of the Fire and Rescue Department. Some 200 citizens, including representatives of a number of ethnic groups, attended.

Afterward, Col. Manger gave this reporter an exclusive interview for Asian Fortune.

Jackie Bong-Wright: What new measures have you taken to protect the Fairfax County population after the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon on September 11?
Col. Manger: Of course, we are on heightened alert. We have evaluated our visibility, our response time, and our outreach to ensure we are meeting citizens’ needs. This includes increased patrols, assistance to the FBI, and renewed efforts to educate the public on what to look out for.
Jackie Bong-Wright: There are now reports of insults and even violence aimed at Arab Americans and American Muslims.
Col. Manger: Unfortunately, that is true. Normally, we have a relatively low number of hate crimes or “bias crimes” in Fairfax County; in all of 2000, 31 were reported. In the nine days following the September 11 attacks, however, we got reports of 15 bias crimes and incidents, an average of almost two per day.
Jackie Bong-Wright: Is it true that Muslim women are now frightened to leave their homes? Are their children safe when they go to school?
Col. Manger: We have heard these reports and understand that fear levels are up. We are all going to have to help one another to get through this difficult period.
Jackie Bong-Wright: What are the police doing to assist?
Col. Manger: On the day of the attacks, I directed police commanders to contact community leaders and encourage them to speak out and educate the public. We also increased police patrols. Two days later, every commander received a Muslim community directory so we could stay in touch with that group. The following week, as you know, I participated with other county leaders in a press conference that addressed hate crimes. Throughout all this, we have worked closely with the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission.
Actually, the police have been alert to the problem of hate discrimination for some time. In fact, we issued a public policy statement last year that makes it clear that we are not going to stand for bias crimes or hate crimes. In an announcement I made over a year ago, I said: “Acts of hate are committed by the ignorant and the cowardly with the goal of creating a climate of fear and intimidation in our community. The Fairfax County Police Department will neither condone nor tolerate such acts; in fact, we will continue to respond aggressively and use every tool at our disposal, working in partnership with the community, to protect the rights of all citizens.”
Jackie Bong-Wright: What can we do to change the climate of animosity against religious and ethnic minorities?
Col. Manger: Be one community! As police, by the way, we encourage citizens to report not only bias crimes, but also bias incidents – behavior that is offensive but does not rise to the level of a crime. Bias incidents can include things like name-calling, using racial slurs, and disseminating racist leaflets. By investigating and documenting such behavior, we can help prevent it from escalating into something worse. To report bias crimes or bias incidents, citizens should call 703-691-2131, which is the Fairfax County Police Public Safety Communication Center.
Jackie Bong-Wright: What about racial profiling?
Col. Manger: Racial profiling is illegal and unacceptable.
Jackie Bong-Wright: In this nation of immigrants that values diversity, what can you do to help the public learn more about the Arab community to help avoid their being stereotyped as terrorists?
Col. Manger: I would urge that people communicate more. Almost all of the time, when we know our neighbors better, we will find that they are good, law-abiding people that want the same things in life that we want. Belonging to groups like neighborhood watch is an excellent way to know the people around you while doing something that is really useful. Partnerships between groups are a good idea, too, for the same reason. And take part in all the community events that you can.
Jackie Bong-Wright: What more can citizens like us do?
Col. Manger: You can continue to be involved, and apply general crime prevention practices. One is get to know your neighbors and look after them. When you see something suspicious, something that doesn’t look right, call us. Another tip: in times of emergency, stay off major roads so emergency vehicles can pass.
Jackie Bong-Wright: What number should we use? Is it 911?
Col. Manger: Yes, for emergencies, it is 911. In other cases, as I just said, call 703-691-2131.
Jackie Bong-Wright: A lot of groups including Asian American organizations have helped out during this crisis by donating blood, food and funds to rescue workers and the police. What more can we do to help – in the near future and in the long term?
Col. Manger: Do the things I mentioned above. Get involved with police functions at the district level. Join police advisory boards. And, for the longer term, encourage young men and women in your community to become police officers. We have some, and they are making a great contribution, but we need even more.