Statewide Organizations Unite to Denounce Sheriffs’ Dangerous Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

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September 2, 2015

Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN communications director, (615) 320-7142

NASHVILLE – Four statewide organizations, the American Center for Outreach, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Muslim Advisory Council, and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, released a joint statement today in response to recent and alarming xenophobic and anti-Muslim comments from several of our state’s elected officials and law enforcement leaders:

“Recently the sheriffs of Hamilton and Sevier counties have both made alarmist and sensational anti-Muslim comments, on the heels of similar statements from state legislators. Inaccurate, sweeping indictments made by leaders in law enforcement endanger members of the very communities that they have taken an oath to protect. Not only do these statements send the wrong message to their respective communities, they stoke the flames of hate that could incite attacks against peaceful Americans.

Tennessee’s elected public servants should seek to serve all Tennesseans—from all ethnic backgrounds and all religions. This is especially true with regard to law enforcement officials who are charged with insuring our day-to-day community safety. We urge law enforcement and Tennessee’s elected officials to acknowledge and ensure that all Tennesseans are treated fairly and equally under the law.

Collectively, our organizations look forward to working with Sheriff Hammond, Sheriff Seals and other law enforcement and elected officials who have concerns or need assistance connecting with their local Muslim communities.”

Paul Galloway, executive director of the American Center for Outreach (ACO), said, “Sadly, inciting statements like those made by Sheriff Hammond erode public trust and disrupt community and law enforcement relationships. Perhaps even more urgently, his statements reinforce negative and inaccurate stereotypes of the American Muslim community, which could very well result in hate crimes and discrimination.”

Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director, added, “Muslims, like people from all religious traditions, have a clear constitutional right to practice their religion freely without fear of harassment and harm. The recent Islamophobic statements made by law enforcement encourage racial and cultural profiling, violating our American values of fair treatment and equal protection under the law. Basing law enforcement decisions on false stereotypes rather than actual police work or evidence of criminal activity is not only a waste of resources, it undermines community-police relations, eroding public safety as a whole.”

“The Tennessee Muslim community has long and very positive relationships with all levels of law enforcement in order to enhance the security of all Tennesseans,” said Zulfat Suara of the American Muslim Advisory Council. “Law enforcement leaders and other elected officials who do not have active relationships with their local Muslim communities need to establish those relationships. Ignorance is not an excuse for those who are entrusted with public safety.”

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, continued, “It is irresponsible for elected officials who have sworn to uphold the constitution to cast suspicion on a large segment of our community based solely on where they are from or how they worship. As demographics continue to change in Tennessee we urge elected officials to respond in a way that upholds our American values, rather than creating fear and division.”

Interviews available upon request.