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Supporting Muslim Communities in New York City: Amna Akbar

April 15, 2012

Amna Akbar joined the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) project of the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic in fall 2011 as a supervising attorney and adjunct professor, a position generously funded by the Proteus Fund for democracy and peace. She also serves as scholar-in-residence at the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Amna Akbar

Amna Akbar

Why was CLEAR established?

In 2009, a few CUNY students and faculty started to organize to address the legal needs of New York City’s Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. Professors Ramzi Kassem and Nicole Smith were the faculty at the helm of the initiative. FBI raids in local Afghan communities underlined how law enforcement targets Muslim communities for indiscriminate questioning and searches, and the real need for rights awareness and legal services work rooted in the experience of Muslim communities with national security and counter-terrorism policies. It was in that context that CLEAR emerged.

We also wanted CLEAR to support community organizing efforts responding to these law enforcement tactics. Community members were worried about being subjected to further scrutiny for their activism, so we felt it was important to let community members know that there are lawyers supporting their rights to organize and speak.

More recently, we have focused on Muslim communities in response to the Associated Press’s reporting about the New York City Police Department’s undercover surveillance program targeting Muslims. The program tracked details like where Muslims go for haircuts and which mosques they pray at. The reporting has sparked a greater organizing response from the city’s Muslim communities, and we’ve been working hard to support those efforts.

What is CLEAR’s impact?

Since CLEAR launched, we’ve been met with a strong demand from Muslim communities for know-your-rights workshops, legal services, and organizing support. Many Muslims in the city now know that if they are approached for questioning by law enforcement, they have the right, like every other person within the United States, to remain silent, and that there’s no obligation to speak with or work for law enforcement. They know they have the right to counsel. And they know they can call CLEAR.

Now that people know CLEAR is here, it contributes to a growing sense of potential within Muslim communities for the capacity to organize for change. CLEAR has been an important part of that growth in the last few years.

What do students learn through CLEAR?

Students are at the forefront of CLEAR’s work, getting exposure to the building blocks of community lawyering. They do everything from initial client intake to researching legal options for clients to advising clients about the benefits and risks of different options. They conduct know-your-rights workshops and often take the lead in negotiations between clients and law enforcement. They support community organizing. Participating in CLEAR has brought home for students the local impacts of national security policies, and how important it is for lawyers to support organizing efforts in communities of color and immigrant communities alongside traditional legal services work.

More from CUNY Law Magazine Spring 2012 »

 

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