Members of the Rhode Island Muslim community held a “Know Your Rights” event at Masjid Al-Kareem in South Providence on Sunday. Nearly 200 people turned out to hear about their civil and Constitutional rights from a panel of legal experts. This information is especially pertinent given the inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump and his rogues gallery of ultra-right wing cabinet nominations.
In Rhode Island, we have a number of Syrian refugees, as well as refugees from other countries, that Trump has promised to deport. We have a small Somali population, a people Trump smeared ahead of his visit to Minneapolis, the city with the largest Somali population in the United States. And of course there is Trump’s infamous and fascist plan to create some sort of “Muslim registry.”
Our Muslim friends and neighbors are a population under threat from the incoming government, and though Rhode Island is a welcoming and supportive community, Muslims need to know their rights and how to defend themselves legally against what may be coming.
The event was not multi-faith in nature, this was explicitly an event where Muslims could have their questions about their rights answered. The event began with a reading from the Quran.
Jordan van Leesten, is Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s community relations representative. He spoke of the Mayor’s recent efforts to prepare the city to weather the worst, including the creation of a Muslim-American Advisory Board and the hate crime hotline.
Newly appointed superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety, Colonel Ann Claire Assumpico, told those in attendance that they should call the police if they are the victim of a hate crime or witness one. Though the community pushed back a little, saying that the police sometimes treat them with disrespect, Assumpico assured those gathered that the state police take their professionalism very seriously and will investigate all complaints.
She asked the community to trust the police.
She also invited interested members of the community to apply to become state police officers, assuring them that the state police will change to accommodate their cultural needs and expectations, just as the institution changed when it first started admitting women.
Attorney Benjamin Evans represented the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). Evans began his talk reminding people that Rhode Island was founded on the concept of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Roger Williams, the founder of the state, was himself a refugee, fleeing religious persecution.
Evans assured the audience that the state and the city have legal protections from much of what the federal government may try to impose. He pointed out that politically, despite his electoral college win, with a popular vote shortfall of 2.7 million votes, Trump does not have a political mandate.
Evans complimented Mayor Elorza’s recent efforts to protect the people of Providence, saying he was “tremendously proud” of the Mayor.
The “Muslim registry” said Evans, is “absolutely, indisputably unconstitutional.”
Joan Mathieu has practiced immigration law for 28 years. She carefully differentiated between laws, executive actions, policies and regulations. Laws, said Mathieu, cannot simply be thrown out by Trump. Congress must act to do that. Executive Actions however, like DACA, which allows children of undocumented immigrants to attend school and get driver’s licenses, can be overturned by Trump on his first day in office.
Everything nice for the immigrant community has come, said Mathieu, not through laws, but through policies. Policies can change. Policies may determine policing and enforcement priorities.
Attorney Jennifer Magaw represented the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). After explaining what the ACLU is and what it does, she pointed out that the ACLU has a table full of information on a person’s rights when encountering the police.
The Muslim community is not alone, said Magaw. There is broad support from the ACLU and the community.
Attorney Mansoor Ahmed represented the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Massachusetts. CAIR works to publicize violations of Muslim rights, lobbies to ensure that proposed legislation respects the rights of Muslims and if necessary, will go to court to protect Muslim rights.
After a series of questions from the audience that addressed particular concerns, the event switched focus. The room filled with school age Muslim children. Dr. Noreen Shaffi, a clinical psychologist, Dr. Kazi Salahuddin, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist joined Colonel Assumpico to talk about preventing bullying and the psychological effect of the current political climate on children.