“And let there be among you a people inviting to the good and enjoining the right and forbidding from the wrong. And those, they are the successful ones”
Police brutality is a reality in America. It is true that nations all over the world deal with this problem, but the conversation at this moment is solely the violence perpetrated by the police here in the United States. Data and studies collected by the nonprofit organization Mapping Police Violence published in national news outlets like The Washington Post and The Guardian revealed a troubling pattern over the past five years. Their study found that police in America killed 1,176 people in 2022; 1,455 citizens in 2021; 1,152 Americans in 2020; 1,097 American citizens in 2019 and 1,140 American people in 2018.
The most troubling finding of the study was that African-Americans accounted for 26% of the deaths by police killings last year even though they only make up 13% of the U.S. population.
In addition, their studies found that these killings were overwhelmingly the result of police stopping American citizens for non-violent concerns where no crime was even alleged like traffic stops, mental health checks, or some disturbance.
A 2018 Harvard University study uncovered that viewing police brutality was producing collective mental trauma, anguish and severe mental depression on Black Americans, especially Black men. This study examined the psychological impact of the police murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, young Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others racially-motivated killings that took place in just the few short years 2014 to 2016.
These police murders were all committed recently and therefore a part of our collective memory and knowledge, even for those who didn’t respond to it.
There is ongoing research on the mental anguish and nationwide PTSD caused by police violence and recordings after the horrors of the George Floyd police murder and subsequent anguished uprising of the American people. The same is true of the videos of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Patrick Lyoya or the chilling and horrific video of the police beating of Tyre Nichols.
Police violence, overreach, and disregard for human life makes people rely on religion to guide them through the turbulence. Muslims are by no means an exception. In fact, Black Muslims, men and women, have also suffered from police brutality.
The first police shooting in Minneapolis after the George Floyd tragedy was that of a Muslim Black man from Somalia, Dolal Idd, in December of 2020. Also in 2020, Sudanese-American Yassin Mohamed was killed by police. A Black Muslim woman, Shukri Ali Said was murdered by police in 2018. Our Muslim brother Stephon Clark was shot in his family’s backyard by police, and Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. was choked to death by the police after repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe!” in 2017. In 2022, Ali Osman, a Somali-American was killed by police for throwing a rock.
It is frankly because African-American Muslims have this intersection of being targeted by the police for being both Black and Muslim that there is no coincidence that so many nationally known, or celebrity status African-American Muslims are or were also social justice advocates.
Malcolm Shabazz challenged America to end segregation laws and state-sponsored brutality; Muhammad Ali refused to be conscripted and forced to fight in unjust wars; Mahmoud Abdul Rauf put his career on the line standing up against American ethnic injustice by making Dua before games and refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work for religious and ethnic equality; educator and social activist, Dr. Su’ad Abdul- Khabeer, the daughter of activist Amatul Haqq, is editor of Sapelo Square, which among other things chronicles the history and social activism of African-American Muslims.
But the fight for social justice and the curbing of police brutality upon American citizenry is not a “Black” thing! This is something that every Muslim in the United States must band together and work against just as Allah has commanded us to do in the Quran, in Surah Ale-Imran, verse 104.
There should be no deafening silence in local Muslim communities when instances of police brutality overtake the public’s attention. Even before these atrocities occur, our ethnically and culturally diverse Muslim community should already be known for being protectors of their local community. Americans should expect that “The Muslims” for sure will work to hold police and local authorities accountable against abuse, violence, and brutality.
African-American Muslims note the fundraisers, speeches, and advocacy for Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East. African-American Muslims ignored and forgave the Muslim immigrant store owners who called the police on George Floyd for floating a $20 bill. But African-American Muslims want the same sentimentality that drives American Muslims of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds to stand against the cruelty our brothers and sisters overseas are subjected to overseas to manifest as concern for human life here in America.
In Quran 3:103, , the word Maruuf literally translates to “the known”, meaning that standard of behavior and ethics that is acknowledged and agreed upon in the society as inherently ‘good’. Murder does not fall in that category. It is Munkaar – a wrong or evil deed that we, the nation of Muslims in America, must forbid from happening in our community.
It is imperative that the whole American Muslim community not only holds the police accountable for their actions, but also monitors their behavior, builds coalitions with others, uses open record laws to expose and educate the public and lobbies for legislation to replace corrupt police forces and prosecute them for their excesses.
Let us collectively agree that stopping police violence is a good deed. Let us collectively work against allowing police brutality in our community. Let us make Dua that Allah will help us to be successful in this task.