The astute observation made by the late Bill Kunstler in chapter 16 of his thought-provoking book titled My Life As A Radical Lawyer (published 1994, Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing Group) has played out many times in the U.S., both before and after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It recently played out again in the Greensboro area of North Carolina and brutally affected the lives of innocent people.
On Friday, September 27, I served as guest khatib for jumuah at the Islamic Center of Greensboro; the following day I attended the quarterly Carolina Islamic Council (CIC) meeting that was held in the picturesque town of Asheville (NC); and on Sunday I was back in Greensboro to conduct a follow-up community forum on issues raised at the Friday jumuah. As I was about to leave Greensboro one of the local leaders, Imam Khalil, called and asked if I could meet a Muslim family in Greensboro who was recently terrorized by area law enforcement officers. What follows is what came out of that meeting.
We met at the home of the Ali family of Greensboro, NC – the family of Ahmed Ali and Hassan Sharif Ali, two young brothers accused of being participants in a very serious crime. In addition to Imam Khalil, there were two other members of the recently established ad-hoc support committee present. The patriarch and matriarch of this proud Somali family were present, along with two young adult daughters, the youngest son (who appeared to be a teenager), and their cute little four year old granddaughter.
The meeting began with an overview of the case and what happened in the early morning hours of August 21, 2013. (I was also given copies of a number of documents.) According to information contained in the Guilford County “Search Warrant,” the case begins with the robbery of a Brinks Armored Vehicle on July 25, 2013, as two armed Brinks employees were in the process of making a money transfer at a Sun Trust Bank in High Point, NC (a suburb of Greensboro). Four armed, masked and hooded “black males,” driving a stolen Dodge Caravan, were reportedly involved in the robbery. (The vehicle was reported stolen on July 24).
The warrant states that the two Brinks security guards shot at the suspects during the robbery, possibly injuring one (who reportedly dropped a shotgun and a bag of money); the Dodge Caravan crashed through a fence in the rear of the bank’s parking lot, and the robbers then escaped on foot to two other waiting vehicles parked close by. They reportedly got away with a bag of money containing $68,651.00.
The next day (July 26) the Dodge Caravan was processed at the High Point Police Department Crime Lab for fingerprints and DNA. On July 27 High Point Crime Stoppers reportedly received information on the crime from an anonymous tipster (also described in the warrant as a “confidential informant” or “source”) who provided five names as “potential suspects.” These names were John Nathaniel Griffin Jr., Hassan Sharif Ali, Kelvin Paul Jacobs Jr., Hassan Sheikuna Hassan, and Rodney Allen Frazier Jr. The confidential informant claimed to have seen the stolen Dodge Caravan (driven by Griffin) on Shirley Lane in Greensboro two days before the robbery (which would have been a day before it was reported stolen). The confidential informant also provided authorities with the ages of each suspect; the type of vehicles they drive; and “the cellular phone numbers for two of the subjects.” By July 29 authorities had confirmed the identities and addresses of all of the suspects.
The confidential informant also advised that the person who made the diversionary call to authorities just before the July 25th Brinks robbery occurred (falsely reporting a robbery in progress at a different location), was the same person who made diversionary calls for two July 7th robberies at Food Lion stores in Greensboro. (A CI so well informed, if his info is indeed correct, raises questions of a different kind.)
It wasn’t long before two more names were thrown into the pot as suspects – Abdulkadir Ali and Ahmed Sharif Ali - the latter being an employee of the same SunTrust Bank that was robbed on July 25. Ahmed Ali was observed working (on the bank’s surveillance video) at the time of the robbery; and he happens to be the brother of the man suspected by authorities of being the alleged “ringleader” of the heist (Hassan Ali).
Fingerprints of John Griffin were reportedly lifted from the interior and exterior of the stolen van. On August 21st Griffin was arrested for armed robbery, reportedly confessed during the interrogation and implicated Rodney Frazier, Hassan Ali, Hassan Hassan and Kelvin Jacobs in the crime. Ahmed Ali was later contacted by authorities at the bank and voluntarily went to the police department for a formal interview, without an attorney (a serious mistake)! He ended up being arrested on suspicion of being an inside man for the robbery.
Several of the accused have criminal rap sheets. The combination of this unfortunate reality coupled with: (a) their alleged associations with each other; (b) the accusations of the confidential informant; (c) the confession and insinuations of one of the accused; and lastly, the tendency to lie (sometimes innocently) when confronted with an issue of this magnitude, has placed them all in a rather untenable situation. Are they all guilty as charged? Only time will tell. For now, those who claim innocence are constitutionally entitled to a presumption of innocence.
With that said, it is NOT the purpose of this writer to weigh in on the merits of this case on either side. My intent to bring to light a horrific injustice committed against people who had NOTHING to do with the crime committed on July 25, 2013!
When I met with the Ali family of Greensboro this past Sunday, the emotional and psychological scars of the August 21st raid on their home were still evident! The African American community (generally speaking) is painfully aware of the disparate manner in which search warrants are executed on the haves and have nots of American society! The well to do (especially people of prominence) rarely have their homes torn apart and their human dignity trampled upon in the course of police-orchestrated searches and seizures.
Muslims today (esp. low income, dark complexioned immigrant Muslims) appear to be getting the wrong side of the tracks treatment with even more oppressive gusto! I sincerely believe that police authorities had a good idea of what the composition of the Ali household was before they raided it, and they could have entered that home with far more restraint than they did - respecting the human dignity, the property and religious rights of all of its occupants - had they wanted to. The authorities chose to trample upon the human rights of this Muslim family…not because they needed to, but because they could!
I was informed that at the home of Hassan Hassan (the other Somali Muslim family impacted by this unfortunate incident), his 80 year old grandmother (who is visually impaired) also received the same brutal and undignified treatment! The officers who served the warrants did not conduct themselves as law enforcement professionals, who have an obligation to “protect and serve” the entire community. Their manner appears to have been more like the racist bigots of the old south! They should not be allowed to get away with such behavior; for if they do, it will happen again, again, and again!
There are a couple of important things regarding this case that people of good will need to do (esp. those on the front line in the State of North Carolina) to publicly hold the police authorities accountable for what they did to these innocent families; demand that all property not germane to this case be returned immediately (esp. the family’s personal documents); and demand that a formal apology be issued by the police agencies involved, with sensitivity training for all of the offending officers involved.
The community should also stand against the very real possibility that the government may try to turn a state case (of armed robbery) into a federal terrorism conspiracy case. (I can see it now: Young Muslim men in North Carolina were committing robberies, or attempting to commit robberies, to help fund violent jihad overseas!)
For as Bill Kunstler correctly noted, “The moment a Muslim is accused of a crime, the specter of terrorism is raised, and everyone panics.”
In the struggle for peace thru justice,
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace Thru Justice Foundation
What follows is a written statement by one of the sisters of Ahmed Ali and Hassan Sharif Ali. It was composed shortly after the raid on the Ali home in Greensboro.
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing this letter to bring to light the cruel and unjustifiable actions taken against my family on August 21, 2013, by Greensboro and High Point law officials. I believe that the treatment my family received by law officials was because of our religious beliefs. One of the officers who was referred to as BJ stated there might be bombs in the house and then proceeded to laugh. The law officials denied my sisters and me permission to cover our body and hair as required by our religion. They recorded and took pictures of all of us without our proper religious clothing.
We were physically, emotionally, and mentally abused by Greensboro and High Point law officials. Our house was broken into at six in the morning by U.S. Marshalls dressed as if they were going to a war zone. The U.S. Marshalls broke open the front door, forcefully woke everyone up, pointed guns at everyone, and handcuffed everyone in the house. My four year old niece was also treated harshly by police officials. They woke her up and told her to put her hands up and walk silently to the living room while pointing a gun at her! The little girl could not stop shaking for a long time. She was confused and hysterical the whole time they were at the house.
The shock of that morning is still there a week and a half after the incident. Any time I hear banging sounds or forceful knocking my heart stops, and I startle and cry. For the past week and a half I have had nightmares about the big guns that were pointed at us. I am not the only person in my family that has experienced this. My niece has been having nightmares and waking up crying since the incident. My sisters and father have had a hard time dealing with banging sounds.
The law officials also told my sisters and me that they did not care about our careers or education. They made us miss work and school. They confiscated our phones and laptops. They took all of my dad’s money that he planned to pay his bills with this month. They seized everyone in my family’s citizenship papers. They even took my wallet that contained my debit cards, permit, student identification card, and my passport. Since my dad’s money was taken he has no way of paying bills that include mortgage, utilities, water, and heat, because he does not know when, or if, he will get his money back. The whole incident has been a big [traumatic] inconvenience to my family.
What my family was put through a week and a half ago is something that we will never forget for as long as we live. My family was treated unfairly by the Greensboro and High Point law officials. Our religion should never factor in to how we as human beings are treated. We are citizens of America and we have a right to freedom of religion without being mistreated by law officials. This is a matter that should not be taken lightly, and I hope that the wrongs dealt to my family can be righted.
A later statement from the Ali Family of Greensboro
Our family came to America in 1996 to escape the civil war going on in Somalia. My parents decided to come to America because they thought it was a safe place to raise their children. My parents heard that America was a free country that did not judge you based on religion and that is why they moved to America.
When we first came to America most of the people were nice and welcoming. There were a lot of people who were willing to help us get accustomed to America. They helped us learn English and provided as much moral support as they could. They also were very respectful of our religion and our culture. It was not until September 11, 2001, that my family noticed a shift in how people responded to Muslims. A lot of people were no longer tolerant of Muslims. It seemed like America no longer respected freedom of religion. People of other religious beliefs started mistreating Muslims in America.
After September 11 it was very noticeable to my family that people were treating us different. My mom and sisters would get weird looks in public because of their headscarves and other Muslim clothing. My dad and brothers would often get stared at for wearing religious head caps. America went from being a tolerant country to a country that publicly showed its hatred to all Muslim people. Every time we are in an airport we are harassed by the TSA just because we have on a headscarf or because we have Muslim names, and we are always the people that are randomly selected to be searched. It has gotten so bad that now even police officers feel as if it is fine to discriminate against Muslims as well.
This incident that happened on August 21, 2013, is the worst thing that has happened to my family since we came to America 17 years ago. We were tormented and abused by police officers because of our religion. They did not respect our religious beliefs. They made a mockery of them. They did not allow the women in the house to put on proper religious clothing, and they also did not respect the religious books, and religious verses we had hanging on the walls. They threw our prayer mats on the floor and proceeded to step on them with their shoes.
The police officers made jokes about bombs and asked if we were terrorists. They made jokes about how they hoped that touching the religious books in the house did not convert them because Islam is not a religion that they want to be a part of. They would all laugh anytime a joke was made about our religion. They treated us as if we were not human. They are also still mistreating my brothers because they are Muslim. They have slandered their name across multiple media sources. They have said my brothers are not American citizens, which is not true! Everyone in my family is an American citizen.
They have also said my brothers are Somali nationalists, but that is the furthest thing from the truth because no one in my family even has Somali citizenship. The only citizenship everyone in my family has is one for America. They have been spreading lies about my brothers and my family and it is not right. We came to America seeking freedom, but instead we have been judged and treated unfairly.
What my family has been put through is worse than what we experienced in Somalia during the war. Our house was broken into by U.S. Marshals dressed as if they were entering a war zone. They had big guns and big fighting sticks. They threw us around and handcuffed everyone. They would not allow us to use the bathroom and denied us blankets to keep warm. They even denied our 4 year old niece something to drink. It has been a month and a half since the incident happened and we still have nightmares about how they treated us.
My dad has been having flashbacks to the war in Somalia since the incident happened. My dad’s blood pressure has been very high and has not come down since our house was broken into by U.S. Marshals. My mom’s blood sugar has been very low and she has fainted many times. My parent’s health has been put in jeopardy because of this incident. My family has had to endure so much mistreatment because of certain Americans and their lack of tolerance for Muslims. No one, regardless of religious beliefs, should have to ever go through what my family experienced. We came to America to escape a war; but we somehow ended up in an even worse war that we cannot get out of…as long as we are Muslims.
Perception is often more powerful than reality. It is understandable for some of our immigrant brethren to believe that the cruel and intolerant behavior of some is representative of a disease in the communal heart of all. It is for this reason that I often remind my Muslim brethren of the large number of good people in America who are not Muslim. When a trauma like this occurs a person (or family) feels completely isolated. This would be good time for people of good will to reach out with messages of concern and human solidarity.
I now have direct contact with two of the Greensboro families, and contact with the support committee. If anyone wishes to send an empathetic message their way (and to the other families as well) I would be happy to forward it on.
Lastly, to the young Muslims who have strayed away from their deen, and now find themselves engulfed in all of the seductive madness connected to this dunya, be advised that this is the type of hardship YOU can bring upon your loved ones when you engage in self-destructive, living in the moment, spiritually bereft behavior!
May ALLAH fortify, and have mercy on us!