By Hailey Woldt — Los Angeles has the largest population of Muslims in America. As head of the largest sheriff’s department and the largest prison population in the nation, Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles has a special role to play in Muslim-American relations. He is well educated on the topic of Islam and has even been to Pakistan, including the Khyber Pass. He is also very spiritual, almost mystical in his approach to God, but is also pragmatic. He encourages understanding between faiths, especially Muslims, Christians and Jews, but realizes the serious security concerns that both Muslim and non-Muslim Americans have. He understands, though, that the best way to ensure security is through respect and cultural sensitivity; his unique approach makes him a model leader for law enforcement officials and patriotic Americans interested in homeland security.
Sheriff Baca has proposed the first ever Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress (MAHSC) to get Muslim-Americans involved in the country the love and to break the stereotypes caused by 9/11. He believes that the “Muslim-American community plays a vital role in protecting people of the United States. Their participation and our continuing efforts to both educate and engage community support is essential to the entire Homeland Security endeavor.” The MAHSC includes a youth group, a community outreach program through mosques and Muslim organizations, and media engagement programs.
This program uniquely combines a great knowledge of Islam from the law enforcement side, often quoting the best verses of the Quran in favor of non-violence and calling terrorism haram or un-Islamic and the official posters begin, “Assalam Alaikum.” He believes that “the greatest victim of terrorism is Islam itself, the Holy Quran, and Muhammad, peace be with him,” and that Muslims should recognize that fact. The department also has cultural training for its officers and for the general public so that every day encounters may go smoothly. He also has many Muslim officers on his staff who do community outreach as well as perform their typical duties. His unique efforts have been successful and show a unique knowledge and acceptance of Islam in public policy.
Baca is not your typical sheriff, either. He is soft-spoken but commanding in presence. He is sheriff of one of the worst counties in the country in terms of criminal and gang activity, and yet he believes in the redeeming qualities of a human being and believes in treating every individual with decency and respect. “Even prisoners can do incredible things,” he said. He told us a story of a former prisoner who once saved a policeman’s life and said that these stories have happened many times. He has been elected three times as sheriff of Los Angeles County and attributes his success to “Public Trust Policing.” He asserts that if the public trusts the law enforcement then it makes for a better law and order environment for both the public and the police. Honor, integrity, respectfulness, common sense, wisdom, fairness, and courage are the official key elements of good law enforcement under his leadership.
The example of Sheriff Lee Baca, a patriot “who would lay down my [his] life for this country” is a living example of how staying with our civil rights and staying true to the spirit of the United States is possible in the fight against terrorism. He has strong recommendations also for the Muslim-American community, saying that there is a lot they can do themselves to improve relations with non-Muslims. Muslims should: publish statements condemning terrorist acts in local journals especially in the Jewish journals; they should show other Americans that they are willing to lay down their lives for this country; there should be a purely patriotic national Muslim organization like other ethnic Americans have or the Masons; and to give charity outside of Islamic organizations. Sheriff Baca is a model leader and citizen and his example should be emulated in both domestic and international policy.