December 21, 2010

Attack on Imam sparks interfaith events: Downtown Express

The anti-Muslim sentiment that reared its ugly head over the summer in the shape of protests at community board meetings and Ground Zero took on another form last week when a Queens Imam was assaulted at a Canal Street subway station.

At around 3:30 a.m. last Wednesday morning, Rob Peterson, an Imam from Woodside was attacked on the platform after leaving a Northbound A train at the Canal Street Station. The 49-year-old male incurred a black eye and a few other minor injuries, but refused medical attention, according to the Deputy Public Commissioner of Public Information of the New York Police Department.

The two perpetrators, 30-year-old Albert Melendez and 28-year-old acquaintance Eddie Crespo, allegedly began mocking the Imam for wearing a kufi, a Muslim religious hat, as he exited the train at the Canal Street station.

He and Crespo kicked and punched the victim, grabbing his kufi and hurling it onto the subway tracks.

Both offenders were charged with assault in the third degree, according to a D.C.P.I. spokesperson. They’re being held on bail of $25,000 and $7,500, respectively, following a hearing last Thursday.

The incident led the City Council to declare last weekend “Love, Love, Interfaith Weekend,” which included various events across all five boroughs focusing on a message of acceptance and respect for all races and religions.

In a statement, Councilmember Margaret Chin said she condemns the hate crime committed against the Imam, and urges all New Yorkers to band together to denounce what she calls a “cowardly act of violence.”

“We commend the N.Y.P.D. and the Hate Crime Task Force for their speedy work to apprehend the perpetrators,” she said, “and we urge the Manhattan District Attorney to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Aliya Latif, civil rights director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that several shaken community members have contacted the organization since the hate crime against the Imam, expressing their concern about ethnic hate crimes. “Public outcry when such reprehensible crimes take place will lead to proper accountability,” she said. “We must collectively challenge when hate turns into violence.”

The safety and emotional well being of entire communities, Latif added, is at stake.

C.A.I.R. is responding to the incident by asking community members to report bias-motivated attacks to their local police departments.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf responded to the incident in a statement, saying, “These kinds of attacks are the result of ignorance and misunderstanding that remain at the heart of the problem we in the Cordoba Initiative are trying to solve.”

Community members of different religions must work together, he added, to prevent similar violent acts from occurring in the future.

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