Just a few weeks after the end of Ramadan last year, a gunfight broke out at a warehouse in Dearborn Michigan. After all the shots were fired, Imam Luqman Ameein Abdullah was dead. His body, riddled with bullet holes, was found in handcuffs inside a trailer. The FBI claimed Abdullah had engaged in extremist activities and was a "highly placed leader of a nationwide radical fundamentalist Sunni group." The federal indictment (which was linked to several other suspects) also tied Abdullah to a stolen goods ring. But the conventional criminal charges seem almost like an afterthought in the wake of the portrayal of Abdullah as a violent separatist who "regularly preaches anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric." Local Imams say he was a local leader whom the FBI was out to assassinate. Though these allegations seem unremarkable against the backdrop of the firestorm of post-9/11 counterterrorism crackdowns, the brutality of the killing and the local Muslim community’s outrage has prompted intervention from another federal authority. This week, the Justice Department is beginning a civil rights investigation into Abdullah’s death. In life, Abdullah was a prominent community member, who, according to colleagues, opened the Masjid Al-Haqq mosque’s doors to many. Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council On American-Islamic Relations-Michigan told the Detroit News that the Imam "would give the shirt off his back to people":
"He fed very hungry people in the neighborhood who were Christian. He helped and assisted a lot of troubled youth. People would come to him who were hungry and he would let them sleep in the mosque. He would let them in from the elements."
Walid and other advocates in the local Muslim community say they knew of no ties to illegal activities. Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, helped lead the call for an independent investigation as the details of the gruesome killing fueled longstanding tensions surrounding both police brutality against the Black community, as well as the rampant targeting of Muslims by law enforcement. The medical examiner’s report details more than 20 gunshot wounds. In a Detroit News report following the autopsy report’s release, Abayomi Azikiwe, a leader of the Michigan Emergency Committee against War and Injustice, called Abdullah’s death "a targeted assassination." "After they shot him, they dumped him in a trailer like a dog," Azikiwe said The analogy is especially chilling in light of the rationalization the authorities offered to the press in retrospect:
FBI agents have said they were justified in shooting Abdullah because he opened fire during their raid on a stolen-goods operation. Agents said an FBI dog was killed, prompting them to return fire.
Conyers said fears of misconduct are well-founded: "On the surface, someone being shot 21 times raises quite a few questions in the criminal justice system," Does it? Over the years, reports of police violence have documented a startling body count, studded with dozens of bullet holes; the racial disparities among the bodies no longer prompt more frustration than shock these days. More recently, reports of federal law enforcement colluding with local police to nab people on terror charges while skirting due process have become a the new status quo of crime-fighting in a post-9/11 world. Eric Holder’s Justice Department is now tasked with asking the questions that the government has kept buried for years. As tensions between police and community in Dearborn reach a boiling point, the key question to come out of the inquiry should be: are we ready to handle the answer? Image: Protest outside Dearborn Police headquarters (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)