OKLAHOMA CITY – Muslims are receiving the brunt of contemporary religious and racial profiling from law enforcement, which is another ugly chapter in American history, a legal expert said Friday during the annual Muslim Day at the Capitol.
Brady Henderson, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, was one of five panelists to discuss the issue as part of a day-long event that included five other breakout sessions. The experts made brief statements and answered questions about the discriminatory practices law enforcement officials use against Muslims.
“Native Americans were profiled before statehood because they were different,” Henderson said. “That history has repeated itself with African-Americans, Hispanics and Jews. People even feared JFK (John F. Kennedy) because they thought he was a puppet of the Pope in Rome. The only difference now is who it happens to. Today, the fight is about religious discrimination toward Muslims.”
Eric Cotton, of Eric Cotton Law Firm, said discrimination is masked in the name of national security, an excuse that was used during World War II as government officials rounded up Japanese Americans and placed them in internment camps.
“The same can be for Syrian refugees now and minorities,” he said.
Several Muslims, including panel moderator Tariq Sattar, president of the Council of American Islamic Relations of Oklahoma, said they have been victims of religious profiling by police or the TSA at airports.
Sattar said he’s been profiled numerous times at airports because of his skin color or the clothes he wears.
Oklahoma City Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis, who is black, said he has been profiled many times, but urged the Muslim community to get their children involved in law enforcement so they can help change the current culture and reverse discriminatory practices.
University of Oklahoma law professor Joseph Thai said police officers have every right to stop someone as long as there is a “single objective reason.” At that point, Thai warned that officers can legally pat search a person, their vehicle and impound the vehicle. He said courts have provided a broad interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits illegal searches and seizures by government officials.
Panel members advised people who are stopped to ask officers for their badge number and name and then record the incident so it can be documented in a courtroom. However, Thai said people should be respectful of the officers and comply with any requests they make. Pettis also suggested victims of discriminatory practices should immediately file a report with the local police department.
“At Oklahoma City, every complaint is investigated. We take it very seriously,” he said.
Henderson suggested discrimination victims should begin communicating with local police officers so the two sides and foster a meaningful dialogue. Veronica Laizure, staff attorney for CAIR, echoed Henderson’s suggestion.
“The positive news is we are working to build better relationships between us and law enforcement,” she said, referring to the large number of Oklahoma Highway Patrolmen who provided security at Friday’s event. In addition, she said Oklahoma City and Tulsa police have reached out to the Muslim community in ways that will build better communication.
Muslim Day at the Capitol began last year and is held as a way to engage elected officials and learn more about the political process. About 200 people attended Friday’s event.