Although Suffolk and Nassau police have recorded no rise in hate crimes since Donald Trump was elected president, officials and members of a Bay Shore mosque Saturday night spoke of incident after incident of anti-Muslim harassment that some people tied to his election.
“People out there felt empowered that they can say anything” since Trump’s election, said Dr. Hafiz ur Rehman, one of the organizers of Saturday’s forum on anti-Muslim bias and a Suffolk County human rights commissioner.
Rehman said shouts of “Go back to your country” to, for example, women wearing the Muslim hijab increased during the presidential campaign and spiked after Trump’s victory. Some mention the president-elect by name, he said, making comments like “Now that Trump is here you need to go home.”
“People are very afraid,” said Rehman, who accused Trump of fomenting fear of Muslims with his heated rhetoric and by proposing a ban on Muslim immigrants.
The forum featured Suffolk County police officials, who urged the more than 150 people gathered at Masjid Darul Quran to report bias incidents to police, even if they believe a bigoted remark is protected by the First Amendment.
“We still want to know when these things are happening, because thoughts, words sometimes turn to actions,” Suffolk police Deputy Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis said in an interview. “People may get so comfortable that they act.”
Suffolk hate crimes unit Det. James Mosby said although one anti-Muslim comment — or against others covered under hate-crime laws — may not be illegal, repeated remarks and slurs may constitute illegal harassment. When police locate the speaker of what is a legally protected remark, that person’s name is added to a database to track whether the individual has a pattern of harassment, he said.
The fear of audience members went beyond local incidents.
“What if Trump asks to register us as Muslims?” asked Sharmila Shah, 46, of Deer Park. “What should we do?”
During the campaign, Trump called for creation of a database of Muslims in the United States, though he has not asked that this be done in recent months.
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter, pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, was applauded when he said that if Muslims are asked to register, he would add his name to the list.
Shah said later in an interview that the question of a registry has been hanging over the Muslim community since Trump’s election.
“We are talking about it absolutely all the time,” Shah said. “We are all scared about it. We are law-abiding citizens. Why do we have to go through this?”
Rehman, a pediatrician in Bay Shore, said some Muslim children have had sleepless nights since the election, worried about being locked up and put in concentration camps or kicked out of the country.
Saturday night’s event was the latest of a number of events at Long Island mosques, churches and community centers at which people from the Muslim, immigrant, Latino, African-American, LGBT and other communities have expressed concern that Trump’s election will lead to increased tensions and a scaling back of their rights.
The Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden will host a discussion of anti-Muslim bias Sunday at 4:45 p.m. The interfaith event is open to the public and will have representatives from Suffolk police, said Dr. Yousuf Syed, a trustee of the mosque.