Westchester’s Shameful Silence: Elected Officials Fail Muslim Community Amid Surge in Hate Crimes

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As Westchester confronts an alarming rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes, our county government must take a more proactive and unequivocal stance against Islamophobia. The relative silence of many of our elected officials in the face of this crisis sends a troubling message of imbalance and subtle bigotry.

It must be emphasized that Muslims in Westchester are a diverse group, including Arab, Black, white, and Asian residents. We cannot allow the pain and trauma experienced by any part of our community to be minimized or brushed aside out of political expediency. If we, as leaders, shrink from telling hard truths or fail to stand up for all of our constituents, we will have abdicated our moral responsibility and diminished our humanity.

To effectively address this challenge, we must approach it with empathy, moral clarity, and a determination to affirm our shared values even in the face of deep divisions. There should be no hesitation in condemning the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas that claimed innocent Israeli lives. Such violence is indefensible under any circumstances.

At the same time, we must also reckon with the immense suffering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has inflicted on ordinary Palestinians. The deaths of more than 32,000 Palestinians, 70 percent of whom were women and children, represent an unfathomable level of loss that cannot be ignored or downplayed.

Westchester’s government officials on a local county and state level, community leaders, and residents must come together to send an unequivocal message that anti-Muslim bigotry and violence have no place in our county. Muslim Americans are a vibrant part of the diverse fabric of Westchester, contributing to our economy, culture, and civic life. They deserve to feel safe, welcome, and free from discrimination throughout their daily lives, too.

The scope and severity of anti-Muslim hate in Westchester were thrown into sharp relief by a recent survey conducted by the Muslim Community Network (MCN). After polling more than 200 local Muslims, MCN found that a staggering 76% had witnessed a hate crime, while 49% reported being the victim of one themselves. Perhaps most disturbingly, nearly 44% of respondents between the ages of 10 and 18 said they experienced a hate crime in 2019 alone.

These findings paint a grim picture, reinforced by the latest statistics from the New York Police Department. In the first three quarters of 2024, the NYPD recorded 18 hate crimes against Muslims compared to just six during the same period last year – a shocking 200% increase.

As a Black man who has lived in Westchester his entire life, I am all too familiar with the kind of racism that often simmers just beneath the surface here, occasionally boiling over into blatant acts of bigotry. The discrimination faced by the Black community provides a window into the hardships and indignities endured by Arabs and Muslims in the county as well.

Against this backdrop, it is disappointing that it took County Executive George Latimer 10 days to issue a simple statement making clear that the Muslim community should not be blamed for the actions of Hamas. The failure of leadership at this moment was not unlike remaining silent while some tried to smear all Black people as gang members and criminals.

Whatever one’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we should all agree that there is no justification for hate crimes targeting people based on their religious beliefs or ethnic background. The Muslim community in Westchester is entitled to the same presumption of innocence and freedom from collective guilt as any other group.

Only when every Muslim in Westchester feels like elected officials support them will they have a sense of calm. Westchester elected officials must act far beyond their political chauffeurs, which takes acts of humanity. Until then, all people of conscience must stand in solidarity with our Muslim and Jewish neighbors and redouble our efforts to root out hate in all its forms.

Westchester’s elected officials are needed now more than ever to address the rising tide of Islamophobia in our community. Mere soundbites buried in news articles few will read are not enough. A strong first step would be for the County Board of Legislators to pass a resolution condemning Islamophobia and affirming Westchester’s solidarity with our Muslim neighbors. But words alone will not suffice. Our representatives in White Plains, Albany, and Washington must also lend their voices to the growing chorus, including Senator Chuck Schumer, demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to stem the heartbreaking loss of civilian life, especially among Palestinian women and children. The deaths of more than 32,000 Palestinians and the specter of famine brought on by the fighting should shake the consciences of all people of goodwill.

To effectively combat anti-Muslim prejudice in Westchester County, sustained engagement and allyship from people of all faiths and backgrounds are essential. In these tense times, we must stand united with both our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters. Through our words and actions, we must clarify that, just like our Jewish community, our Muslim community members are also valued members of our shared community. This is something our elected officials in Westchester have failed to do. The best way to respond to hate is with compassion, inclusion, and a recommitment to our highest ideals. Doing so can help us overcome this challenging moment and emerge stronger together as a people.

DAMON K JONES
DAMON K JONEShttps://damonkjones.com
A multifaceted personality, Damon is an activist, author, and the force behind Black Westchester Magazine, a notable Black-owned newspaper based in Westchester County, New York. With a wide array of expertise, he wears many hats, including that of a Spiritual Life Coach, Couples and Family Therapy Coach, and Holistic Health Practitioner. He is well-versed in Mental Health First Aid, Dietary and Nutritional Counseling, and has significant insights as a Vegan and Vegetarian Nutrition Life Coach. Not just limited to the world of holistic health and activism, Damon brings with him a rich 32-year experience as a Law Enforcement Practitioner and stands as the New York Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America.

1 COMMENT

  1. The political leaders in Westchester who remain silent, while hate crimes are being committed against Muslims in their communities, are just as complicit, as those who are committing those acts of hate.

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