On Sept. 11 New York Corrections Officer Stacey Salimah Bell reported to her unit just south of the World Trade Center. After the first crash, she and her colleagues walked 2 ½ blocks uptown to see if they could help, when, Salimah says, "we heard this eerie sound as a shadow came over our heads. The second plane darkened the street, and we watched it crash right in front of us. I ran to get a picture of my family, my Qur'an, and my prayer rug to put in my car. As we helped clear the streets to let firefighters through, I remember one gave me the thumbs up. I still don't know if he survived."
When the first tower was falling, I resigned myself to never seeing my family again. I just dropped to my knees to pray as I was covered in that white dust.
Although I survived, I couldn't sleep or eat for two to three weeks. I kept seeing that plane. I kept seeing the towers falling. I kept seeing those people falling. I was angry. [As a Muslim] I was angry with people who would call themselves Muslim and do this, so I knew that something would have to be done to change people's perceptions about Islam. I joined a group of Muslims working enforcement here in New York City to form the American Muslim Law Enforcement Officers Association. Because I am in law enforcement, I know everyone is entitled to due process. I have no qualms whatsoever with law enforcement going after terrorists, because Muslims know terrorism is against Islam. However, I would hate to see someone not receive that right because of terrorism. I think the distinction has to be made between Islam, Muslims, and criminal activity.
[For example, one day] I didn't have on my uniform, but I always wear hijab (the scarf or head covering that Muslim women wear). Restaurants around ground zero were offering discounts to all ground zero workers. I went to a local restaurant with my co-workers. When I placed my order, I showed my ID, but it came to the regular price. When I asked the cashier why, she gave me a dead-pan stare and then said, 'Oh, I can't help you.' When I asked her why she said something to her manager in another language. He came over and said they only give the discount to people who are 'nice.' Then he said I had to wear a uniform. There were a lot of people, construction workers and a co-worker of mine, who never wear uniforms. My co-worker was getting a discount every day. My co-workers became very angry and argued with him, but I just had to walk out and clear my head.
The AMLEOA [can act as an agent of change]. It was formed as a national organization uniting law enforcement officers all over the country. It's organized the same way 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care was organized and Eric Adams (the group's president and founder) was instrumental in helping us. Like them, we hope that we can advocate for the needs of Muslims on law enforcement issues.
Since we organized, we have started two Girl Scout Troops in Brooklyn, introducing immigrant girls to the Girl Scouts USA. We've worked with the Brooklyn District Attorney 's Office Civil Rights Bureau in getting the message to the Muslim community that the D.A. is ready to prosecute hate crimes and/or bias attacks. There were lots of complaints after 9-11 about junior and high school girls getting teased on the subway, their hijabs being pulled, rocks being thrown at them. We had a community forum on Aug. 23 at Al-Noor School in Brooklyn, which included the New York Police Department, Corrections Department, Immigration and Nationalization Service, Department of Justice, Mayor's Office on Immigrant Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, Housing Preservation Department, Consumer Affairs and the Brooklyn D.A.'s office. The school allowed local residents to walk around, visit the tables of the offices and see what services they offer. During Ramadan (the Muslim's month-long period of fasting) this year we'll invite non-Muslim organizations to celebrate with Muslim law enforcement officers.
As African-American women, Muslim and non-Muslim, we need to form a sisterhood - in the true sense of the word. All sisters. Sometimes, when we walk past each other on the street, we don't even smile at each other. Your smile can affect someone's day. That won't solve the problems of world peace, but it might help that sister's problems for one day.