By Ilyas Choudry, MMNS
Houstonâ€“June 30–Houston Sheriff apologizes to Muslims of Houston.
â€œWe appreciate that you being the Sheriff of Harris County have come forward, to meet with us. Your apology is a nice gesture and good start, but we have to go really far in gauging and observing the actual change in the mindset of your department.â€ These were the feelings of many, as they expressed their concerns about the recent racially insensitive emails exchanged by senior officials at the Tommy Thomasâ€™ Houston Sheriffâ€™s Department.
â€œI have just returned from Washington DC, having attended the Task Force Meeting of Homeland Security with Mr. Chertoff, where it was discussed that radicalization within minority communities can very well happen not due to some outside terrorists, but by the conduct and statements of intelligent personnel of authority within letâ€™s say a governmental entity in USA. The way Muslims in Harris County are called a threat in the email exchanges between high officials of the Sheriff Department. Reason in these E-Mails cited is that many Muslims own Gas Stations and that probably this gas can be used as weapon of terrorism comparing it with the fires in California: This unfitting thought-process is exactly under what was discussed recently in Washington DC. It is good that Sheriff Thomas has come forward today and we are off to a fine start, but we have to achieve a lot before the confidence in the Sheriff Department is restored. The hatred that can be found within the messages of these emails about minorities is quite deep and it will take real sincere efforts on part of the Sheriff Department, together with the help of community leadership, to change this mindsetâ€ explained A. J. Durrani of the Coalition of New American Communities (CONAC).
Attorney Neiyer Izfar said: â€œI feel this bad attitude and posture is systemic in the Sheriffâ€™s Department. I have a client who just last week was detained by the Sheriff’s department and the junior detention officers threatened him that he will be sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. When a junior officer is saying such things, it means the problem is deep rooted and it needs more efforts than suggested by Sheriff Thomas to fix these problems.â€
All these comments came as a result of the shock various minority communities felt in early 2008 when Channel-13-Houston-ABC-TV Undercover Reporter Wayne Dolcefino revealed that top echelons of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department (headed by Sheriff Tommy Thomas) had been involved in exchanging racially sensitive emails.Â The emails targeted the Muslim, Chinese, African-American, Hispanic and other communities.
The controversy erupted in January 2008, when the sheriffâ€™s office announced that all emails would be deleted automatically after 14 days, although state law requires record retention for two to five years.
Following the media investigation of the departmentâ€™s emails, and after a cartoon depicting Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson was revealed among the emails, the Houston Ministers Against Crime said Sheriff Tommy Thomas should step down. The group said they are worried about the mindset of Harris County leaders after learning that Sheriff Thomasâ€™s senior staff members had sent these emails, plus finding out about racial and pornographic emails sent by the District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.
On February 15th, 2008, a lawsuit was filed calling for the removal from office of Thomas, as well as District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, who resigned almost immediately.
Recently more than 100 people conducted a protest in front of Sheriff Thomasâ€™ offices, during which they publicly called for his resignation.
Said Sheriff Thomas, â€œI am embarrassed by these emails. The buck stops with me and that is why I have come forward to extend my apology to the Muslim Community. We are a department of 4,000 employees. I am remorseful that there was more than one such email, even though one inappropriate email is one too many.Â I would like to inform and stress that this is not systemic in my department. We have 15 mosques in our incorporated area and we have always given the most professional services without any prejudice to the Muslim Community. I received a letter of concern and then I met with the President of ISGH Rodwan Saleh last Thursday and had good dialog. At present, we do annual sensitivity training for various cultures and religions and these classes are conducted by our deputies. We will consider someone from the Muslim Community to come and deliver this training for Muslims, as this way we will able to relate in a better manner and this will enhance good mutual understanding. Again I hate to say that this inappropriate thing has happened and I am sorry for this:â€ These were the approximate feelings expressed by Sheriff Tommy Thomas at this luncheon meeting at the Main Center of ISGH with the leadership of the Muslim Community.
Harris County has today about 4 million people. It is considered one of the most diverse counties in the entire country, being about 37% Hispanic, 18% African American, and 6% Asian. About 250,000 Muslims live in this county and are major stake-holders as successful entrepreneurs and professionals.
The Sheriffâ€™s office is also under investigation for the surveillance of two Muslims who subsequently sued Harris County for civil rights violations.
Channel-13-Houston-ABC-TV Undercover Reporter Wayne Dolcefino reported last week that the countyâ€™s top cop is under more criticism, this time by the 250,000 Muslims, who learnt from Channel 13 that these insulting emails have cartoons making fun of Muslims daily five prayers and depicting local Muslim-owned gas stations as potential terrorist threats.
Chief Mike Smit, who oversees the Detention Command including the Detention Bureau, Health Services Bureau, Public Services Bureau & Support Services Bureau, has been suspended for five days without pay and he will be required to attend a sensitivity training course about various communities living in Harris County.
â€œI will do everything to remedy the situation and then we can hope for the best because in the end we are all humans: Hopefully the officials as adults have learnt their lessons from this humiliation and this will never ever be repeated,â€ said Sheriff Thomas.
Rodwan Saleh said: â€œWhen Muslims are blamed for terrorism, we justifiably say that it has nothing to do with our beliefs and wrong is being done by individuals, who have nothing to do with Islam. Sheriff Thomas is saying almost the same thing that all these emails are not systemic in his department and since this wrong has occurred under his command, he has gracefully accepted the blame and apologized, although he did not do anything wrong. Plus he is actively taking steps to correct the situation.â€
M. J. Khan said: â€œNews goes fast, and must have reached other parts of USA and the world. Serious actions and measures by the Sheriff Department will make sure that nice, talented and resourceful people avoid coming to Harris County. Our region is proud to have the best inter-community relations in the USA, and this coming forward and meeting of the sheriff with the community is testimonial of that. It takes a great man to come forward and apologize and for that we immensely commend Sheriff Thomas. Our community needs to be proactive and just not always react to these things in order to avoid them at the first place, while the Sheriff Department and other Governmental Agencies need to involve the various communities because we all are the tools, which can be used to develop an even better society around us.â€
Abdul Hafeez Khatri, Shaukat Zakaria, Attorney Burhan Naumani and Attorney Ali Zakaria in their respective remarks convey approximately these feelings: â€œThis is just slap on the wrist sort of penalty what the Sheriff Department has suggested. We are not looking for any revengeful punishment for the officers involved, but what we have heard in Sheriffâ€™s apology is fine as far as personal remorse is concerned and we appreciate that, but we are still not sure, if the problems will be resolved with the existing policies of reprimand in place at the Sheriff Department: An overhauling is required and we will keep in touch with the Sheriff Department to monitor if the basic way of thinking is changing or not.”
Tommy Thomas (Republican â€“ R) is the Sheriff of Harris County, and is up for re-election against Houston Mayor-Pro-Tem and former Houston Police Officer Adrian Garcia (Democrat â€“ D) on November 04, 2008.