Archive for Sheriff Lee Baca

In Muslim community, Lee Baca wins support through conversation, not confrontation

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2011 by loonwatch

Sheriff Lee Baca, a Republican,  made LoonWatch’s 2010 list of anti-Loons and is in one of the leaders for 2011. Here he is still doing a tremendous job.

In Muslim community, Baca wins support through conversation, not confrontation

The L.A. County sheriff, a Republican with a strong reputation as a crime fighter, believes in building trust within minority communities. He reads the Koran and shuns hard-line tactics.

By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

April 19, 2011

Reporting from New York— Three young women, all wearing delicate hijabs, are gathered outside a TriBeCa lecture hall in eager anticipation. It’s not an actor or a pop star they’re waiting for. The object of their giddiness is Sheriff Lee Baca, in town for just one night.

It might be unusual for a lawman anywhere to have fans, let alone one a continent away from his jurisdiction. But such is the life of Los Angeles County’s chief law enforcement officer since his outspoken support of American Muslims vaulted him into the national spotlight.

“I just want to meet you and thank you,” one young woman blurts out after catching Baca outside a recent speaking engagement on Muslim outreach. “You gave us a voice.”

In an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China kind of way, Baca, a former Marine reservist and registered Republican, has been largely immune to the innuendo that has caused other politicians to distance themselves from Muslims post 9/11. He has bucked the hard-line law enforcement approach of security checks and surveillance in favor of outreach and cooperation.

His law-and-order credentials have made him an irresistible ally for Muslim advocates, earning him shout-outs on national TV shows, including “The Colbert Report” and invitations to the halls of Congress. On more than one occasion he’s been the only law enforcement official willing to mix it up with Republican lawmakers on the issue.

In New York, where Baca preached the benefits of Muslim outreach on a panel about national security, the sheriff seemed energized by his warm reception. “Did you see those girls? Do they look like terrorists to you?” he said of the gaggle of young Muslim women who greeted him. “They’re not terrorists. I know my public.”

Reading the Koran

The events of 9/11 quickly took Baca in an unusual direction. When many politicians chose an arms-length approach to Muslims, Baca chose the Koran — literally. In the black sedan that ferried him from one engagement to another, he pored over the book, reading it from front to back, memorizing passages.

Within days of the terrorist attack, Baca met with local Muslim leaders, promising them protection. Responding to reports that Pakistani store owners were being hassled, Baca ordered his deputies “to go by the 7-Elevens and offer support.”

His empathy for a persecuted minority, he says, isn’t rooted in any sort of shared experience as a Mexican American but in an unusual childhood.

The son of a seamstress who had to care for three children on her own, Baca was sent as a boy to live with his pensioner grandparents in East L.A. His developmentally challenged uncle, then in his 30s, still lived at the home.

“He was a pound and a half at birth,” Baca said. “Couldn’t read, write, speak sentences. My uncle had no faculty, no capacity.”

With no household car, 7-year-old Leroy, his uncle and his grandmother traversed the city by bus. Those rides had a lasting effect.

“People would sneer at my uncle, laugh at him, make fun of him, and I believe that’s wrong,” Baca recalled. “We’re not bothering anyone. So how about just leaving us alone? Is that asking too much?”

His affinity for minority communities had political benefits. A long-shot candidate for sheriff in 1998, Baca got creative in his campaigning, tapping ethnic groups other candidates ignored.

“I had to have other bases of support outside the traditional realms,” he said. Among them were Iranians, Lebanese and other groups with large Muslim populations.

But his decision to intensify those ties post 9/11, he says, wasn’t political. Lapses on the federal level exposed by the attacks put a newfound pressure on local law enforcement. “All of our lives have been changed by 9/11,” Baca said. “We’re the ones who will get slammed if something falls through the cracks.”

Thousands of tips flooded law enforcement agencies after 9/11. Even leads that seemed silly had to be followed. “The one you don’t follow will end up being the one that matters,” Baca said. In one instance, a local group of Muslim men frequenting paintball facilities were investigated as potential terrorist snipers. They turned out to be “a buncha guys who just liked paintballing,” Baca said. “What are you gonna do? Ignore it?”

To pinpoint legitimate concerns, Baca needed his deputies inside Muslim communities. His focus on homegrown terror grew after the 2005 London Underground bombings, when four men, all living and working in England for years, killed 52.

“I realized we didn’t have a strategy for homegrown terrorism,” Baca said. “Cops are not gonna be invited into an extremist plot. That’s rule No. 1…. But if you get people to tell you something that’s troubling them, that’s the first sign of success.”

To build enough trust to be tipped off to extremist plots, Baca needed his deputies to become hyper-responsive to the Muslim community’s more routine crime concerns.

Less upfront tactics have at times backfired on other agencies. In Orange County, the FBI is still suffering from the fallout of a 2006 operation in which a paid informant posing as a Muslim convert infiltrated mosques.

The mole, equipped with a microphone keychain and a hidden camera, was outed soon after his talk of violent jihad became so extreme that one mosque was granted a restraining order. Many Muslims still point to the incident as proof that they’re too often treated by law enforcement as suspects, not partners.

Baca is reluctant to criticize the FBI, but his disdain for its style of covert intelligence gathering shows.

“I think they learned on their own what the plusses and minuses are. I believe terror plots are more sophisticated. I’m more of a chess player,” he said. “There are so few Muslim extremists in America. You can’t burn all the hay to find the needle, because the people are the hay.”

After initial struggles to make inroads, Baca’s Muslim community affairs unit, which staffs two deputies fulltime, has well-attended community exchanges and receives regular calls from Muslims with concerns that are terrorism-related and other issues. Baca’s personal involvement has softened up many of the community’s older, more reluctant leaders. The department employs about a dozen Muslim deputies and half that many Arabic speakers.

“They want to be able to say ‘I know the sheriff,’” said Sgt. Mike Abdeen, who leads the unit. “They like to go back to the community and say I know so and so, I’m a man of influence.”

Baca has been quick to accept their invitations — and fully participates when he does. At a PakistanDay celebration, he wore traditional garb. With Iranians, he’ll throw in some Farsi; with Pakistanis, a bit of Urdu. He keeps a Koran in his office and another at home and is known to quote passages from memory. Inside mosques, he removes his shoes and during prayers, he joins in, going to his knees and pressing his forehead to the ground.

“He might not understand what he’s doing,” said Deputy Sherif Morsi, the other officer in the unit. “But the point is he’s letting people know ‘I’m your sheriff, I support you.’”

That commitment has taken Baca to more than a dozen Middle Eastern countries since 9/11. The tangible benefits of the trips aren’t always clear, but Baca maintains they give him a unique window into Muslim cultures and to counterterrorism where the fight’s the fiercest.

In Saudi Arabia, he watched hundreds of police recruits march as he and other officials sat in “very elegant seats as if we were heads of state.” Afterwards, they sat on rugs in police headquarters and feasted on a barbequed lamb. “They ripped out the choicest pieces of meat for us with their hands,” Baca raved.

In Egypt, he chatted with the national police chief about his “surgical” approach to beating back the Muslim Brotherhood on the Sinai Peninsula. In Pakistan, then-President Pervez Musharraf agreed to have Baca briefed on two assassination attempts. In one, Pakistani authorities used an Israeli cellphone scrambler to halt a remote bomb detonation. When Baca returned home, the Sheriff’s Department purchased its own.

“I met the police chief of Mecca and I understand who he is. I’m on the street, you don’t learn these things in your office,” Baca said.

Baca’s effort has not been without criticism.

Far right-wing websites have derisively described Baca as an “international” lawman, and a “Hamas-affiliated CAIR” sheriff, referring to the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim group Baca defends. Last year, the innuendo followed Baca to Washington, D.C. One congressman seemed to surprise the sheriff by accusing him at a hearing of cozying up to CAIR despite the group’s “radical” speech. “You’ve been 10 times to [its] fundraisers,” the congressman said.

“And I’ll be there 10 more times,” Baca shouted back.

CAIR is generally considered a moderate, if aggressive, Muslim civil rights group. Attacks against it haven’t dissuaded Baca. Hussam Ayloush, director of CAIR’s regional branch, said Baca is one of the few public officials who have asked for his organization’s side of the story.

“Most politicians I’ve worked with would have avoided the headache. It’s not about the truth, it’s about perception, and they don’t want to touch it,” Ayloush said.

Naive? That’s OK

On a recent evening, Baca strolled along a seedy street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. It was his second East Coast trip in as many weeks, both times to speak on Muslim outreach.

Street vendors, unaware that the stick-thin man before them was a major law enforcement figure, tried one after another to sell him knock-off purses and wallets. “How are you?” Baca greeted them, smiling wide.

Pulling in close as if to share a secret, Baca said he knew his post-9/11 stance has been attacked. Even among friends he’s been warned of being naive. He’s OK with it.

“I’m not endorsing Muslim groups. I’m defending them. ‘Oh he’s a Muslim lover, he’s a Jew lover.’ I don’t pay attention to bigots.

“I know I’m a little naive. I know I am overly trusting. That’s who I choose to be. If you’re uncomfortable with others, you’re not in a position to lead. I’ve created somewhat of a palace in my mind because, if you don’t, this world is your prison…. I can take the attacks. Attack me! Am I going to change who I am? No. Because it works.”

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

Peter King’s “Muslim Hearings” are Political Theater to Target Muslims

Posted in Anti-Loons, Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2011 by loonwatch

Loonwatch was live blogging the controversial (anti)-Muslim Hearings being chaired by bigoted ex-IRA terrorist supporter Peter King. It was a circus. It devolved along partisan lines with Republicans predictably falling behind the rhetoric and narrative of Peter King. Democratic Congressmen/women issued strong rebukes: Rep. Sheila J. Lee, Rep. Al Green, Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Andre Carson, Rep. Laura Richardson, Rep. Sanchez, and others delivered the message home that these Hearings were nothing more than political theater meant to castigate and intimidate a minority group and most importantly they were bereft of facts and therefore unbeneficial.

The leading witnesses for King were non-experts, Zuhdi Jasser, AbdiRizak Bihi and Melvin Bledsoe, all of these individuals were bereft of any credentials or expertise in the field of radicalization, terrorism or extremism. Zuhdi Jasser is considered an apologist for Neo-Cons and is viewed with suspicion amongst American Muslims for his close association with Islamophobes and war-mongerers. AbdiRizak was incomprehensible at times and much of what he and Bledsoe said were anecdotal and not factual evidence.

King began the hearings with what can only be classified as a bigoted comment, he said, “Moderate leadership must emerge from the Muslim community.” He said this to set up a straw man argument for what would become a recurring attack on CAIR, almost making it into a hearing about CAIR.

After getting its name wrong, calling it the “Committee of American Islamic Relations,” he and other Congressmen labeled CAIR a Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood group. This is the usual trope brought forth by Right-wingers and anti-Muslims such as Robert Spencer and co., the best response came from Sheriff Lee Baca (one of the anti-Loons of 2010) when he said, ‘If CAIR is this terrorist group or has terrorist links then why hasn’t the FBI prosecuted them? Why haven’t they charged them? They wouldn’t be around if they were terrorist or terrorist sympathizers.’

Some highlights included:

Keith Ellison made three important points: 1.) Security is important to all American Muslims, 2.) Hearings threaten our security and 3.) We need increased engagement with Muslims.

Ellison also got quite emotional while mentioning the story of a Muslim first responder who died saving people but was the victim of a smear campaign by Islamophobes who attempted to link him to the 9/11 attacks.

Andre Carson brought up an excellent point about the fact that cooperation between law enforcement and communities such as the American Muslim community is endangered by the backdoor actions and methodologies of  organizations such as the FBI when they send agent provocateurs into Muslim mosques. Such actions cause distrust and engender fear that Muslims’ civil rights and liberties are being violated. One really only has to look at the example in California of the criminal Craig Montielh who was later arrested and confessed that he was sent by the FBI on a fishing expedition to entrap Muslims.

There were also other quite interesting WTF moments: Such as when Peter King mentioned Kim Kardashian and CAIR in the same sentence. Or when non-expert witness Melvin Bledsoe told Rep. Al Green “you don’t know what these hearings are about.” There was also the earlier moment when Peter King denied making the comment that “there are too many mosques in America.” A blatant falsity.

We will have more in depth coverage but it is safe to say that American Muslims are in for a rocky Islamophobic time with these hearings.

Sheriff Lee Baca: A Man of Principle

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2010 by loonwatch

lee_-baca

The loons love to cast themselves as the defenders of freedom and the vanguards of enlightenment against the dark forces of Islam. A self-image we have shattered over and over by hurling facts and exposing their ignorance and hateful hypocrisy.

A lot of these right wingers’ invective revolves around castigating the largest Muslim civil rights organization in America, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) because it is a strong and influential voice against bigotry and discrimination against Muslims and that just irks the Islamophobes. They have come up with all sorts of conspiracies revolving around CAIR including one that made Newsweek’s ‘Top Conspiracies of 2009.”

However it seems like they didn’t bargain for an encounter with Sheriff Lee Baca.

L.A. County Sheriff Defends Himself, Muslims after Attack by Indiana Governor

If L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was feisty last week when he tangled with a Republican congressman in Washington, D.C., he was even more impassioned Tuesday while discussing it.

A week ago, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) impugned Baca during a House Homeland Security subcommittee meeting, saying the sheriff had allied himself with a Muslim American group that engaged in “radical” speech by going to its fundraisers. Baca not only attacked that description of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, but he also told Souder he would be fine with going to more fundraisers for the group.

“If he thinks I’m afraid of what he said, I will go to 10 fundraisers because he said it,” Baca declared Tuesday afternoon, just a few hours before a town hall meeting with the Muslim American community.

Actually, Baca said, he’s been to only two fundraisers for the organization in four years, but that, he added, is not the point. What rankled Baca — aside from what he took as Souder personally challenging the sheriff’s patriotism — was what he saw as the congressman’s inaccurate assessment of the group.

“In other words, he’s an amateur intelligence officer,” Baca said.

Several times a year, the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress — an independent group set up to advise Baca and forge a partnership between the department and Muslim Americans — and the Sheriff’s Department’s Muslim Community Affairs Unit hold forums to discuss issues. The one Tuesday night was scheduled before the dust-up in Washington offered a charged topic for discussion.

When Baca spoke at the Tuesday event, he was given a standing ovation by the 75 or so people at the Omar ibn Al-Khattab Foundation near USC.

Baca called Souder’s comments “scary” and said they were an affront to all Muslim Americans. “When you attack CAIR,” he said, “you attack virtually every Muslim in America.”

Baca’s response to Souder was a statement in defense of democracy, said Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California. “And they will not vanish,” he said. “They are on the record and they are a landmark on the road of our democracy.”

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, hailed Baca as a hero. “Sheriff Baca is our champion and is our hero in defending us against McCarthyism in this era,” Al-Marayati said.

Although CAIR, a national Muslim civil liberties group, has its critics, Baca said the local offices represent average Muslim Americans “very committed to the safety of the U.S. It is not an organization that supports or promotes terrorism.” He added that the group supported a proposed half-cent sales tax hike for law enforcement. “I think CAIR’s support for public safety is unequivocal,” he said.

Baca said he believes strongly in a connection between public safety and religious understanding. The Sheriff’s Department’s interfaith council, he said, has been working for a decade on projects such as passing out food baskets to the homeless and counseling drug addicts. “We have all faiths represented — Jewish, Muslim, Scientology is even involved.”

The Muslim American Homeland Security Congress was set up in the wake of “this constant uninformed chatter about religion being a factor in terrorism,” he said. “I’m saying — because I’ve read the Koran and been involved with Muslim Americans for years — this is not correct. God has nothing to do with mentally ill people committing terrorist acts. If a mentally ill person is using Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Scientology to say ‘This is part of why I’m doing this,’ I say, ‘Well, guess what, don’t act like you’re God, you don’t have God’s authority.’ ”

Baca is Catholic. “I’m a weak Catholic; I’m not suggesting I’m doing my best at it,” he said. “I respect Catholicism and I respect all faiths.”

Without them, he said, “our crime would be outrageous. We would not be a civilized world.”

carla.hall@latimes.com

raja.abdulrahim@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times