NEW YORK (RNS) – At the New York Islamic Cultural Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Sheikh Saad Jalloh, the center’s imam, is reminding his congregation to be aware of the fact that in a busy mosque with more than 1,500 members in the center Anything can happen in a large metropolitan area.
And everything often does: Jalloh said the center frequently receives bomb threats by phone and email. People have been walking their dogs in the mosque’s prayer room and dumping rubbish in the Sheikh’s prayer station.
Security at the mosque involves both communication with the police – “We have a very good relationship with the 23rd district,” said Jalloh – and the vigilance of those present.
“I always give a short talk with the parishioners right after prayer,” Jalloh told Religion News Service, encouraging them to “be very nice to the neighborhood, treat them well, and make sure there’s a good relationship between us and them.” , and do not allow hate as it may lead to hate crimes or attack.”
New Yorkers of all faiths face an increasingly frightening number of religiously motivated hate crimes and prejudice more than 450 confirmed prejudice and hate incidents reported in their city last year. These attacks range from personal – two Sikh men were robbed and assaulted in April, their turbans ripped from their heads – to institutional, with a Catholic church receiving bomb threats last May after a draft Supreme Court ruling dismissing the case Roe v. Wade was leaked.
In November alone, a Muslim woman was attacked on the subway, and two men who had made threats against Manhattan synagogues were arrested while carrying a high-capacity magazine, among other weapons.
But official statistics, experts say, only begin to capture the scale of hate crime in New York.
“It is important to say that hate crime figures are underreported,” said Hassan Naveed, executive director of the city’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. Some members of the city’s minority communities “may not necessarily have the same access or level of convenience when calling 911 to file a hate crime complaint.”
A recent survey funded by the OPHC and conducted by the New York section of the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that only 4% of respondents who have experienced a hate crime have reported it to the police.
Established in 2019, Naveed’s office coordinates the city’s response to hate and prejudice discrimination across multiple agencies, from the Department of Education to the Police Department. It also works with local community groups led by six anchor organizations focused on education, community relations and law enforcement.
Anchor groups include the East Brooklyn-based 67th Precinct Clergy Council, which calls itself the “God Squad”; the Arab American Association of New York; Asian American Federation; the Hispanic Federation; the Jewish Community Relations Council; and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
Through these groups, OPHC has helped Jewish organizations and synagogues in the city increase security and helped the Muslim Community Network create its first hate crime prevention survey. Together with the Sikh Coalition, she organized a hate crime education event for taxi drivers at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The office also hosts workshops on applying for security grants and distributes hate crime reporting information in different languages to better reach immigrant communities.
“We really need to figure out how, as a society, we can collectively take everything we know and really change the way we think,” Naveed said. “We are constantly building communities. We also call on organizations to work together, to get to know each other, to learn from each other.”
Community building also takes place in neighborhoods right between local police stations and places of worship. The NYPD has dedicated neighborhood coordinators who work in specific district sectors where they get to know the local schools, community leaders, places of worship and ministers.
With a number of anti-Semitic incidents in recent years, Jewish groups have organized additional lines of defense to improve security at Jewish community centers and synagogues across the city. For more than 15 years, the Community Security Service has worked with law enforcement, local government, and other Jewish organizations to train volunteers to protect New York’s Jewish institutions. for more than 15 years Today, hundreds of CSS volunteers guard synagogues and Jewish community rooms in the city.
Following the November 2022 Club Q shootings in Colorado, CSS partnered with OPHC and LGBTQ Jewish organizations to conduct safety and situational awareness training.
Evan Bernstein, CSS CEO and National Director, also believes in a community-building, community-wide approach. He is co-founder of the Interfaith Security Council, which regularly brings together more than 20 NYC faith-based organizations to discuss security best practices and community concerns, share resources, and promote interfaith dialogue.
The Interfaith Security Council was co-founded by Pastor Gil Monrose, executive director of the New York City Office for Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. OFCP works with places of worship to address gun violence, mental health issues, affordable housing, food insecurity and security threats. In addition to teaching safety measures directly, the council facilitates safety grant application training for various communities.
“Our office exists so that all faith groups are represented in the city government and to share the resources our city makes available to all faith communities to help them navigate the complexities of the City of New York. Our job is to be that bridge between the city and our faith leaders and faith communities,” said Monrose.
On the day Monrose spoke to RNS, he was participating in a call between places of worship and the NYPD, which provided an opportunity for faith communities to raise concerns and for law enforcement to check on safety.
“We work better in groups than standing alone,” Monrose said. “So if one person or group does something, we all do it.”
With thousands of faith communities in New York City, Monrose said the safety of their places of worship depends on cooperation and mutual concern.
“Every day people wake up and think about how we are protecting our community. That’s our challenge,” Monrose said. “To make sure we’re providing the resources and really looking at the dangers we face collectively and being able to address them head-on for everyone.”