CAIR-WA to seek ‘maximum penalties’ for threats to Muslim family

The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA) will hold a news conference today to call for maximum legal penalties for a man who allegedly harassed and threatened a Muslim family at Seattle Center last month.

At the news conference, CAIR-WA will outline why this incident appears to be part of a pattern of recent harassment of and attacks on American Muslims and will ask the FBI to look into the case for possible federal charges.

On April 27, 2013, a Muslim family visiting Seattle Center was allegedly approached by 52-year-old Gregg Michael Burtis who reportedly asked two younger women in their party how many husbands they had. When the family asked Burtis to leave them alone, he allegedly became angry and began calling the family “Muslims” and “terrorists”. Family members feared for their lives and called the police when they reportedly heard Burtis say he was going to get a gun and “shoot them all.” Burtis was arrested and booked in King County Jail on $50,000 bail. He is awaiting trial for malicious harassment.

“This vicious hate incident at Seattle Center is part of a nationwide wave of hate-motivated threats and attacks against American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, following the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon,” said CAIR-WA Civil Rights Coordinator Jennifer Gist. “In the wake of the Boston tragedy, Americans must unite and work to prevent any further loss of life from hate motivated attacks that threaten our nation’s security and our collective safety.”

Gist added: “All of us have a role to play. We need prosecutors to send a very strong message that those who make such threats will have to face the full force of the law. Elected officials and other law enforcement leaders should make public statements now declaring zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”

Gist noted that CAIR’s Sacramento Valley chapter earlier this week condemned an attack in which an 82-year-old Sikh man was beaten with a steel pipe outside a Sikh temple in Fresno, CA. Sikh men who wear beards and turbans as part of their faith are often targeted by bigots who mistake them for Muslims.

She said CAIR recently urged state and federal law enforcement authorities to bring hate crime charges against two suspects who allegedly verbally and physically assaulted a Muslim student in Boston, Mass.

CAIR also asked prosecutors in Virginia to bring felony charges based on that state’s hate crime law for an alleged assault on a Muslim U.S. Army reservist and Iraq veteran reportedly attacked by a passenger who compared him to those who carried out the Boston Marathon bombings and threatened to slice his throat.

Several other bias-motivated incidents targeting Muslims may have been linked to the Boston bombings.

In Malden, Mass., a mother of Middle Eastern heritage wearing an Islamic headscarf, or hijab, was assaulted by a white male shouting anti-Muslim slurs. In New York, a Bangladeshi man was beaten hours after the Boston Marathon bombing by attackers who called him “a f**king Arab.” The victim was punched in the head and body, resulting in a dislocated shoulder.

CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter also called on state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate a second incident of vandalism targeting a mosque in that state to determine whether it is backlash from the Boston Marathon bombings.

CAIR is investigating other reports it has received recently of threats to American mosques and Muslim schools.

Muslim individuals and Islamic institutions, as well as houses of worship of other faiths, are being urged to review advice on security procedures contained in CAIR’s “Muslim Community Safety Kit.”

CAIR press release, 9 May 2013