Ever since the tragic shooting of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida occurred earlier this month, members of a tiny mosque the gunman attended in Fort Pierce have been cooperating with the FBI and local police to assist with ongoing investigations, even as the center endures a rash of hateful visits and phone calls. Yet despite their efforts, worshippers say authorities are refusing to provide the community with a security detail.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, members of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce condemned the shooter and planned a blood drive to help the victims, releasing a statement saying they “repudiat[ed] anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.” But as the days waned on, members grew worried of anti-Muslim revenge attacks on the house of worship.
Their concerns proved to be prescient: According to Wilfredo Ruiz, a spokesman for the St. Pierce mosque who also happens to be communications director of the Florida chapter of the Center for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), it wasn’t long before mosque members encountered Islamophobic hate.
People started to drive by and shout racial slurs.
“Incidents started to happen — people started to drive by and shout racial slurs,” Ruiz told ThinkProgress. “And last Friday, when worshippers were exiting their services during the rain, cars were driving by splashing them.”
Ruiz said the mosque has also received angry voicemails filled with slurs and threatening language, most of which were forwarded on to local police to determine if legal action was necessary. And last week, a group of bikers descended on the center for a “patriotic rally,” circling the block on their motorcycles several times.
“These people do feel very insecure, and legitimately afraid for their safety,” Ruiz said.
Indeed, attacks on Muslims and Islamic houses of worship are an unsettlingly predictable response to terrorist incidents, and have become increasingly common over the past year as anti-Islam sentiment rises. ThinkProgress has tracked at least 81 anti-Islam incidents across the United States since ISIS-affiliated gunmen attacked Paris last year, with Muslims and those who are perceived to be Muslim enduring harassment, beatings, shootings, and violent attacks on their worship spaces. Ruiz noted that CAIR reports a 500 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate over the past year in Florida alone.
As tensions rose in Ft. Pierce, the mosque’s imam reportedly approached the county sheriff’s office to ask for a security detail, hoping officers could protect the worshippers as they entered and exited the center for Ramadan prayers in the evenings. But while officers agreed to patrol the area infrequently, requests for stationed police were consistently denied, with officials claiming they were too busy with other police work in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting to help.
“The terrorist attack in Orlando has our entire agency working extremely hard,” read a statement provided to ThinkProgress by the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. “Placing patrol units at specific locations by special request, even if reimbursed by the requesting party, is evaluated based on staffing levels and can at times limit our ability to maintain our mission and appropriately respond to the entire community.”
“At this time we have received no indication of safety concerns related to retaliation,” the statement added. “At the time of the request, we were unable to provide sufficient personnel to grant the request due to other contractual obligations.”
Bryan Beaty, the sheriff’s public information officer, also said that officials are now in communication with the mosque, and that a security detail was now a possibility.
But the mosque still doesn’t have a detail the time of this writing, and has reportedly hired private guards to protect the congregation in the meantime. CAIR Florida is also planning to hold to conduct a safety and security training for members of the center, and leaders have also reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice for help in quickening law enforcement’s slow response.
“This became a very frustrating effort,” Ruiz said. “We wanted [the DOJ] to get involved, because we were facilitating so many interviews with the FBI.”