It was supposed to be another quiet Monday morning at the Islamic Association of Tarrant County, also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque. Located in a quiet urban neighborhood in Fort Worth, the mosque on Diaz Street is only a few years old, but the Muslim community that attends its services has been around for several decades. Except on Muslim holidays and Fridays, IATC has no traffic outside the five daily prayers times. But yesterday morning was an out-of-the ordinary Monday. IATC hosted a multicultural training event for the Fort Worth Police Department. Over 60 police trainees attending the Police Academy and their officers marched in the building, had lunch with a few Muslim members, toured the mosque, and attended a multicultural presentation about American Muslims.
An unusual event like this didn’t come by chance; indeed, the Fort Worth Police Department has been preparing for this initiative for the past two years. In 2012, they developed a multicultural committee to help them understand the diverse needs of the citizens they serve. For this, they located the need to get educated about seven diverse Fort Worth communities: the Homeless, the Middle Eastern/Muslim, Asian/Pacific, African American, GLBT, Latino/Hispanic, and Deaf/Hearing impaired. Before even meeting with citizens representing these groups, the department trained its officers about how to facilitate and mediate dialog. Then, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey W. Halstead sent out a letter inviting citizens representing those different groups to a dinner reception at the Police Academy. This is how the Citizen Peer initiative was planted to grow later into a network of community cooperation and conversation.
For seven months, the Muslim members in Citizen Peer met with their two officers, Lt. Robert Rangel and Sgt. Gilbert Banda. They discussed everything about American Muslims; from beliefs and religious practices to traditions and cultural behavior. A special session was dedicated for misconceptions related to the Muslim community. Lt. Rangel who has a background in Homeland Security admitted that when he was assigned this group he was hesitant, for he knew nothing about Islam or Muslims. Before his first meeting with the group, he bought a little yellow book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam. Sgt. Banda whose background is in Narcotics diligently took notes during each dialog session, the conclusions of which were to be presented to the whole department. The Muslim members came as volunteers for this dialog but had no idea of their officers’ backgrounds. Nonetheless, they continued the conversation and as Lt. Rangel noted, that after the first hour of discussion he had already gone through a total mental transformation, with barriers of misconceptions brought down.
Hence, yesterday’s Police Academy’s field trip to a Muslim mosque came as a rewarding experience for all participants among the Police Department and the Muslim community. Despite initial moments of silence at the beginning of the event, the small building hall turned into a loud space with everyone chatting, laughing and of course eating. Everyone was comfortable and pleased: Muslims welcomed their esteemed guests into their home, and the Police Department experienced a ground breaking cultural outreach. And it all happened on the Monday before Christmas.
Such outreach on the part of the Police Department speaks a lot about true citizenship and leadership. It is great enough for American police officers to be courageous and go out in the face of criminals to protect citizens, and to put one’s self in danger to secure others. But to reach out further with friendship and community for better understanding and mutual cooperation towards the common good, that is outstanding bravery. And America needs more Police Departments across the nation join this choir of true citizenship.