In 2019 The US Congress invited many organizations to give testimony at the Congressional hearings on white supremacy threat to the Muslims living in the United States. The US Congress was alarmed by the rising tide of hate crimes by the white supremacists and Islamophobic rhetoric by the Trump administration.
Omar Ricci, Chairman, Islamic Center of Southern California, testified to the Congress on behalf of the MPAC (Muslim Public Affairs Council) on May 15, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Ricci, being a proud reserved police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, did not testify in that capacity, but only shared his views and experiences as an American Muslim. This provided an opportunity for him to share what he saw and what he knew. He explained that being a police officer, it was his desire to carry on his civic duty and carry out a mandate of the Islamic faith, that Muslims should work to better the society they live in.
In April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis prompted the Los Angeles Police Department to issue an order telling Omar Ricci to report for duty at the coronavirus command post to help in the planning and deployment of officers. He had worked in various capacities including basic street patrol, counter-terrorism, special operations, and community engagement. Using his experience, he formulated a plan to reach out to homeless people in Los Angeles, offer them a place to properly shelter, and maintain social distancing during this crisis.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American man was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest when a white police officer Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying "I can't breathe.” This year in April 2021, Jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. Being aware of the police brutality and a culture that had existed in the form of institutional racism and abused civil rights, Omar Ricci was always prepared to present the best side of the police force by strictly practicing Islam values at work, when he came in contact with general public and criminals.
As a son of an American-Italian father and a Pakistani mother, Ricci knows criminal and racist behaviors in the law enforcement agencies do not come out of a vacuum. They are the current-day manifestations of America’s tragic history of slavery, which in turn reflect a culture created and in some cases encouraged by the leaders of America.
On May 30, 2020, at around 2:15 am Police Officer Omar Ricci while patrolling the Los Angeles neighborhood, observed the frontage of a small business rammed by a car, making mounds of shattered glass on the floor and destroying the metal accordion security gate that lay mangled on the floor. He inspected the crime scene, inside and outside the shop, and then called the cellular phone shop owner, a 30+-year-old El Salvadoran immigrant, telling her that all the cell phones, money, safe, and inventory in the backroom were taken by looters. He asked the woman if she could come to her business. She declined and said that she didn’t have anyone to take care of her 2 months old child at that time.
He called up several board-up companies for this woman, asking them to put plywood panels to exterior windows and board up the shop. All declined to say they had enough work for the night and maybe for several days. He had to move on, as the police radio blared with urgent high priority calls, for he couldn’t stay at the looted cell and mobile phone shop site indefinitely. He asked the shop owner what she wanted the police to do, even calling someone else on her behalf. The woman in distress cried “Leave it!” “What can I do, it’s in God’s hands.” At that time Ricci felt the pain of another soul. He prayed; "O! God, please give this woman relief as only you can give her, please restore her business and please restore her faith."
Omar Ricci knows about situations like this. There were lots of looters on the streets, causing lots of property damage. As a Police Officer, he knows that looting is not acceptable because it is not a form of protest. "It causes innocent and small business owners economic and emotional grief. The people have a right to protest oppression and police brutality, but as the Qur’an says, "Repel evil with good, not with more evil." (41:34)
The Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) is the latest target of increasing hate and violence in the United States of America. The large tentacles of ignorance, xenophobia, and irresponsible rhetoric are now being felt in every corner of this country because an attack on them is an attack on all of us. Ricci knows that it leads to the degradation of American society and he wants to "stand lockstep & shoulder-to-shoulder with them, some of whom are part of my Muslim faith community. May God protect my AAPI brothers and sisters."
Last year, on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, Omar Ricci, came face to face with an African-American who was inches away from his face, shouting in rage. In Omar, he saw a white -American police officer, a symbol of police brutality, without realizing that he has come face to face with a Muslim Police Officer.
Omar Ricci narrates his experience:
“He was shirtless, yoked, sweating, and ready to throw down. My face shield started accumulating his spit as he yelled, all the while he was rocking side-to-side in anger. I wasn’t the only officer facing a protestor’s rage. Along with about 50 of my fellow police officers, I stood there on the skirmish line at Sunset & Argyle in Hollywood in front of at least a thousand protestors. Let me tell you, the power of 1000+ voices all shouting in unison in a righteous cause was something I’ve seen on TV in various parts of the world. You could feel the propelling energy of all those voices. It was awesome. There I stood, baton in hand, helmet on my head, and a badge on my chest. To my African-American brother yelling at me, I represented all that was, and is, wrong with policing in parts of our country, and indeed what’s been wrong for centuries in our country. “You racist cop! How many of my people have YOU murdered!? Why are you brutalizing my people!” By this point, my adrenaline outweighed my fear, and I was getting ready.
Then I did something.
The voice in my head told me to share with this brother that in fact, I agreed with him. I agreed that police brutality was a problem; I agreed with him that our nation has not dealt with the legacy of slavery. I agreed with the spirit of what he was saying. So I decided to tell him. “Brother, I agree with you.” His yelling stopped on a dime, and he looked at my google eyes shocked. I let go of my drawn baton with my left hand, put my hand to my heart, then motioned it towards him, and said slowly and loudly so he could hear over the chants,
“I…AGREE…WITH YOU.” Suban’Allah (the Muslim word for “all praises are due to God”), represents how God has designed the human emotion and spirit. At that moment, something happened. Time slowed just a bit and the chants weren’t as loud. You could see the rage dissipate from this brother, starting from his eyes and working its way down his face and to the rest of his body. At that moment, he seemed relieved he didn’t need to be engaged, with me at least; for so undoubtedly taking a toll on a person’s soul. My adrenaline cooled. And at that moment there was a human connection.
The brother stepped away from me, and then faded back into the thousands. Here’s the thing, I wasn’t the only cop on the skirmish line that did that. There were lots of other Los Angeles Police Department cops that did the same and did so authentically. I don’t know of one cop that isn’t outraged by what happened in Minneapolis. A lot more happened that day that maybe I’ll share at some point, but this was a moment I wanted to memorialize and share. May God guide and protect our country and all people.”
[Mohammad Yacoob is a retired industrial engineer and an engineering proposals analyst who lives in Los Angeles, California]