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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy and Local Law Enforcement Leaders Join Nationwide Effort to Confront Backlash Against Muslims in Wake of Terrorist Attacks

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Media Relations Director Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726 


SAN DIEGO – Four men in a pickup truck pulled alongside a pedestrian on Winter Gardens Boulevard in Lakeside and shouted at him. They called him “ISIS supporter” and “terrorist supporter” and told him to “Go back to Iraq!” Then at least one of the men in the truck opened the passenger door and went after their target, who was thrown to the ground, beaten and kicked.

Somehow he managed to stumble to get help, but by then he had suffered major damage.  Emergency room doctors at Grossmont Hospital found that the bones holding his right eye in place were shattered, the muscle under the right eye had sunk, and there were bone fragments lodged in his optical nerve, impairing his vision.

This happened in December, about two weeks after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino. While the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department attempted to follow up with the victim and tried to locate witnesses, unfortunately the attackers could not be identified.

During the last several months, Muslims – or those perceived to be Muslim – have been targeted around the country in the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino.

As a result, United States Attorneys from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Ohio, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Utah will work with community leaders and law enforcement from April 13 to 20 at special events to address discrimination, violence, and harassment targeting people because of what they look like, which country they come from, or where they worship. The aim is to protect civil rights and prevent hate crimes.

The 13 events in 11 districts will build on both the Justice Department’s prosecutorial work in countering post-September 11th backlash, as well as its outreach efforts, including the new interagency initiative to combat religious discrimination throughout the country.

“All too often in the aftermath of acts of terrorism, Muslim Americans – and those perceived to be Muslim – have suffered a backlash of unthinkable violence and discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, co-chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee Civil Rights Subcommittee. “These acts of retaliation violate the letter and the spirit of our Constitution, our laws, and the ideals upon which our nation was founded.  The Department of Justice is committed to working with communities of all faiths to protect and ensure the civil rights of all faiths.”

In San Diego, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy will be joined by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, Coronado Police Chief Jon Froomin and Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano for an event today at 4:30 p.m. at San Diego State University’s Center for Intercultural Relations, located in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at 6075 Aztec Circle Drive on the SDSU campus. A female Muslim student was assaulted on campus in November, when an unknown male, believed to be an SDSU student, pushed her and pulled her by her hijab while making hate comments and threats based on her religious appearance.

Today’s event coincides with “Islam Awareness Week,” April 13 to 19, sponsored by SDSU’s Muslim Student Association. Please see attached flyer for more information.

 “San Diego has not been spared by this disturbing trend,” U.S. Attorney Duffy noted.  “It is particularly troubling that these incidents are often directed at Muslim women because their use of a headscarf or hijab targets them for hateful insults and physical abuse. In fact, many Muslim women feel so unsafe that workshops have sprung up throughout the country to train them in self-defense techniques.  I am gratified that my law enforcement colleagues, both here in San Diego and around the nation, are taking a stand against the wave of ignorant hatred that has caused so many law abiding members of our Muslim community to fear for their safety.”

“The San Diego District Attorney's Office continues to aggressively prosecute all hate crimes occurring within our county,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “We condemn all hate crimes, including the apparent recent spike in hate crimes targeting those victims perceived to be Muslim.  We will continue to work closely with both the Muslim community and our law enforcement partners to apprehend and hold accountable any who criminally violate the civil liberties of our citizens.”

“This country was founded on priceless freedoms,” said Sheriff Bill Gore. “The Bill of Rights set forth these freedoms that we enjoy - freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press are a few. As public safety officers, it is our duty to ensure everyone enjoys the same rights – regardless of their faith, gender, or nationality.  There are no exceptions to the first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitution.”

“Public safety is a shared responsibility between our police department and our community,” said San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. “Our community policing philosophy emphasizes working in partnership with all of our communities who we so proudly serve. The information shared will only help to enhance our efforts to keep San Diego one of the safest big cities in the United States.”

Similar acts of hate have occurred around the country.

A Connecticut man pleaded guilty to firing a high-powered rifle at a mosque; a Florida man pleaded guilty to threatening to firebomb two mosques and shoot their congregants; a former Missouri man pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of others by leading a conspiracy to deface a local Islamic center with graffiti and burn two copies of the Qur’an; and a New York man was sentenced to 13 months in prison for emailing death threats to the executive director of an Islamic advocacy group. 

Places of worship also face discrimination through unlawful barriers to construction in many communities around the country.  In the last year, the Justice Department filed suit against Des Plaines, Illinois, over the city’s denial of rezoning to allow a Muslim congregation to use a vacant office building as a mosque.  The complaint alleged that the city treated the mosque less favorably than it has treated nonreligious assemblies, discriminated against the mosque based on religion and imposed a substantial burden on the mosque members’ religious exercise without justification.  The Justice Department also closed its investigation into Norwalk, Connecticut, after the city made changes to treat religious assemblies equally with nonreligious assemblies in five of its zoning districts.  The department had opened an investigation of Norwalk’s zoning practices in 2012 in response to the city’s denial of a special use permit to the Al Madany Islamic Center to build a mosque on land it had bought in a residential zoning district.

Backlash against Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian Americans can have a particularly harmful impact on education, employment and housing. In March, the Civil Rights Division announced that the Educational Opportunities Section launched a new enforcement initiative with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to strengthen our efforts to combat religious discrimination in schools and other educational settings.  The new intiative, together with Justice Department’s recent work in Bakersfield, California; Lewisville, Texas; Pine Bush, New York; Dearborn Heights, Michigan; DeKalb County, Georgia; and many more cities and counties through the nation, will help ensure that schools remain free from discrimination, harassment and violence for all students.

This effort is a reflection of the Department of Justice’s long-standing commitment to working to protect Muslim, Sikh, Arab and South Asian Americans from threats and violence directed at them because of their religion or ethnicity, and to prevent acts of discrimination against them in the workplace, schools or elsewhere.  Since September 11th, the Department of Justice has investigated over 1,000 incidents involving acts of violence, threats, assaults, vandalism and arson targeting Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asians, and those perceived to be members of these groups. The Civil Rights Division and U.S Attorneys’ offices have brought prosecutions against more than 60 defendants in such cases, with 57 convictions to date. 


Updated April 13, 2016

Community Outreach
Press Release Number: CAS16-0413-Wright