Slain Muslim leaders memorialized with prayers, calls for action
City Officials Brave East New York Heat to Reassure a Worried Community
City Hall’s message to those who came to mourn slain Imam Maulano Akojee and his friend, Elder Thara Uddin, was one of reassurance: “I’m here as a New York public advocate who will never, never abandon the Muslim community,” Letitia James insisted.
“I felt your immense pain and I also felt your fear for you children,” city Comptroller Scott Stringer added. “You should not be afraid to live and work in New York City.”
“We will make sure whoever did this is brought to justice. I can guarantee you that,” Mayor Bill de Blasio promised, after enduring criticism for not appearing personally at the site in Ozone Park, Queens, where the two men were gunned down Saturday afternoon.
While each statement drew cheers and applause, mourners made it clear that swift, decisive justice would speak louder than words. Community leader and Ozone Park resident Khairul Islam Kukun read a list of demands that included classifying the killings as a hate crime, deploying the NYPD’s hate crime unit and the placing of security cameras outside Muslims’ houses of worship. He concluded his remarks by reminding people that if they wanted their rights to be respected, they must register to vote. “Remember,” Kukon said, “that all politics is local.”
After the recitation of prayers for the deceased, many mourners set off on a march along Glenmore Avenue, chanting and carrying signs demanding justice and proclaiming that Muslim lives matter. NYPD community affairs personnel accompanied the marchers, while EMS vehicles stood nearby to intervene in case of heat-related emergencies.
Only a few faint discolorations remain on the sidewalk of 79th Street and Liberty Avenue where Imam Akojee and Elder Uddin were attacked. Locals familiar with the incident helped reporters orient themselves with the Al-Furqan, Jame Masjid Mosque — which Akojee and Uddin had just exited — then pointed in the direction that the gunman, according to witnesses, had fled after the shooting.
Several activists used bullhorns to address the gathering, pausing from time to time to avoid competing with the roar of the A train as it passed overhead. A man who looked impossibly cool in his white cotton shalwar passed out chilled bottles of water from a wheeled ice chest to any who needed one. Nevertheless, one young man collapsed due to heat and was briefly treated by alert FDNY paramedics.
“You should read Koran,” insisted Tariq, an Egyptian activist who has attended many such rallies and memorials in the New York area. “It is not about becoming a Muslim, but understanding that Islam is not ISIS!”
Tariq’s ISIS reference, seeming to come from left field at first, simply reflected the feeling many mourners expressed of an Islamophobia that has reached its climax with the 2016 presidential campaign. Although his name wasn’t mentioned, Donald Trump’s proposals for dealing with radical Islam were seen by many as an attempt to taint all Muslims, fueling hatred and rationalizing violence against them.
Based on the limited information the NYPD has released regarding the double-murder suspect presently in custody, the killer seems unlikely to be a Trump follower, or even a registered Republican. But in spite of the assurances offered by elected officials, many in the Muslim community are uneasy, and they believe Trump’s campaign not only insults their culture, but has now made their lives more dangerous.
Although the NYPD has announced the arrest of a suspect, 35-year-old Brooklyn resident Oscar Morel (see more on page 16), The New York Times reports that Morel denies involvement, and a New York Daily News correspondent quotes Morel’s brother, Alvin Morel, as claiming that aside from a brief reaction to the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, Oscar Morel has never expressed any hatred for Muslims.
Ozone Park resident Sammy Mahmoud did not witness the shootings, but he arrived at 79th and Liberty on Saturday afternoon while the blood was still fresh and community passions high.
“This was him,” he said, referring to Trump. “He doesn’t mean to, maybe, but he makes it OK, because his people, they don’t know better.”
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