New York police officials have met several hundred Muslim clerics, activists and community leaders to discuss their plans to provide added security to mosques during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg told attendees at the gathering in the city's police headquarters that his administration had "zero tolerance for hate crimes against any group".
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and other department officials promised to add extra patrols at areas around mosques during Ramadan and have detectives visit about 100 places of worship over the next 30 days.
Farooq Saleem, a resident who attended the meeting, still speaks with some bitterness of the days growing up in New York City when classmates mocked his ethnicity by calling him Gandhi, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was a Muslim born in Pakistan, not a Hindu from India.
New York tolerance
Thankfully, he said, New York has since become more tolerant. His own children have not suffered from the same level of teasing.
"It's come a long way," said Saleem, an analyst for the New York Financial Control Board. "I can feel the difference."
Bloomberg (C) stressed New
York's intolerance of hate crimes
Still, he rose at the meeting on Wednesday to question whether officers got enough training in dealing with hate crimes, or were sufficiently involved in schools, where he said race baiting was still occasionally a problem.
The police department said it was not expecting major trouble during Ramadan, noting that of the 190 hate crimes reported in the city so far this year, only four involved assaults on Muslims.
A number of the imams who travelled downtown to attend the event indicated that their most pressing concern was about parking during the month of fasting.
Several complained during a question and answer session that worshippers were receiving too many parking tickets outside mosques on Friday nights.
Kelly said local police precincts would work with religious groups, but added: "You also have to obey the traffic laws."
A few asked the commissioner to reaffirm the city's policies for dealing with immigrants who might not possess proper residency documents, but had been the victim of a racially motivated crime.
Kelly replied that enforcing immigration law was a job for federal agents, not city police, and promised that officers would not punish crime victims by turning them over to the Department of Homeland Security.
The pre-Ramadan security gathering has become an annual occurrence since the 11 September 2001 attacks.