Justice for Ayyub Abdul-Alim

August 28, 2013

David Wood reports on the struggle to win justice for a Muslim man who was victimized after he refused to become an informant for the FBI.

A DIFFERENT reality exists for people of color in America, for Muslims and those living in marginalized neighborhoods. No one knows this better than Ayyub Abdul-Alim.

Ayyub is a 35-year-old African American and Puerto Rican U.S.-born citizen who was raised as a Muslim. He has been held in Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow, Mass., for almost two years waiting to go to trial for alleged firearms and ammunition charges leveled against him after a random stop-and-frisk by Springfield police.

Ayyub says that he has police recordings revealing he was searched and cleared of having any weapons.

The same day Ayyub was booked, he was greeted by an FBI agent who offered him exoneration and a return to normalcy. The condition was that he agree to become an informant within his Muslim community. Ayyub refused.

In a statement, Ayyub described the arrest:

In December of 2011, I was targeted and arrested on a fabricated weapons charge less than five minutes after closing my store, Natures Garden, by the Springfield Police Department in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). I have been incarcerated against my will at the Hampden House of Corrections for approximately two years pending trial--despite the fact that I have police recordings revealing I was searched and cleared of any weapons and then forcibly strip searched and probed sexually in view of the public.

Most importantly, I have been offered exoneration of the aforementioned fabricated charges, prior to being arraigned in Springfield Court, at the Springfield police station (by the FBI and Springfield police)--only if I agreed to become an informant against my will to spy on the Muslim community.

Rallying for justice for Ayyub Abdul-Alim
Rallying for justice for Ayyub Abdul-Alim (David Woodsome | SW)

Ayyub's story sheds light on the way police terrorize Muslims and people of color across the country. Thanks to his family and friends, this reality has been gaining attention.

Camila Carpio goes to Amherst High School where Ayyub graduated. "The same people who are suppose to protect and serve are bringing the real crime to our communities," she said. "Ayyub is one in a million men set up and profiled. As a community, we're responsible to restore justice if the people who are employed to do so fail."

TARGETING COMMUNITIES of color is nothing new for the Springfield and Massachusetts State Police. Last year, the New York Times released a disturbing story on how Green Beret counterinsurgency tactics have been rolled out in the Brightwood neighborhood of Springfield.

Still more disturbing is how the police, with the help of the Times, presented the program as strengthening neighborhoods by improving police-community relationships and cooperation--as if counterinsurgency tactics, which have caused so much bloodshed and destruction abroad, would solve anything at home.

The article praises two Massachusetts state troopers who are former Green Berets and responsible for implementing the counterinsurgency program:

[T]heir experience overseas changed their perspective, convincing them that it was futile to fight a war without gaining the trust and support of those most affected by it. So in 2009, when gang violence spiked and community leaders and the city police were eager to develop new tactics, the troopers proposed trying the counterinsurgency strategies they had been trained to use in Iraq.

The troopers talked about the communities they policed as if they were occupied nations. Their comments are an insightful look into how the police view communities of color. The Times reported:

"It was kind of an 'aha' moment," Trooper Cutone said. "Gang members and drug dealers operate very similarly to insurgents. I don't mean they're looking to overthrow the state. But the way that they blend into the passive support of the community and use that to their advantage is very similar." On a sheet of butcher paper, Trooper Cutone drafted a plan, listing goals like "Work by, with and through the local population," and "Detect, degrade, disrupt and dismantle criminal activity"--maxims similar to those drilled into him during counterinsurgency training in the Special Forces.

Ayyub's case shows what police tactics today are really about. Despite the police's facade of good will, not everyone in Springfield is accepting their lies. This is seen most starkly by those who are fighting for Ayyub.

Twenty people turned out at the Springfield courthouse at 7 a.m. on August 23 to stand in solidarity with Ayyub at his court date. They gathered outside holding a banner demanding "Justice for Ayyub." Later they filled the courtroom for Ayyub's pre-trial conference.

Vira Cage also stood in solidarity with Ayyub. She worked tirelessly last year to win freedom for her nephew Charles Wilhite, who was also framed by the Springfield Police.

When asked about Ayyub, she said, "They plucked him out of our community and expected us to turn the other way." As the crowd of Ayyub's supporters stood up in unison concluding his first court procedure, it was clear his community was not turning the other way.

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