LA not yet decided over federal ‘anti-terrorism’ grant

The City of Los Angeles has not yet decided on whether or not it will take in a $425,000 grant from the federal Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program which was scheduled to be voted on at the Tuesday, July 3 City Council meeting.

While the mayor’s office has planned to accept the grant meant to build community resistance to extremism, CVE opposers say that the program is yet another way to surveil and target Muslims.

In a room full of civil rights and community group members holding signs reading “CVE is Islamophobia,” and “CVE does not make us safe,” LA City Council President Herb Wesson sent the issue back to the public safety committee for further discussion, giving advocates against the program a temporary sigh of relief.

CVE was formally initiated under the Obama administration in 2008, which also drew criticism, but critics against the program say they are much more concerned over how the program would be directed under the current Trump administration.

Having been arrested a day before while rallying outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center, Councilmember Mike Bonin was present at the council meeting and expressed his concern over the program’s intentions.

“They actually tried to rename it a Countering Radical Islamic program, or the Countering of Violent Jihad program,” said Bonin of the Trump administration. “They backed off, but they also backed off and pulled funding for programs under the CVE program umbrella to address white supremacy and threats of white terrorism in this country.”

Describing the program as having “misplaced focus,” he added that the program was addressing the wrong threat.

“As much as it has been dressed up and modified, this is still about targeting Islamic and communities of color when the real threat — which we all know in this country is terrorism, whether this administration chooses to refer to it as terrorism or not — is white guys with guns,” said Bonin.

Joumana Silyan-Saba from the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety said that the mayor’s office is aware of the “optics in the unfortunate rhetoric” coming out of the Trump administration, but said that such rhetoric is what the fund would fight against.

Repeatedly referring to the issue as complex, Silyan-Saba said the program would be used to support prevention of hate and bias “of all its forms.”

“This includes white supremacists, Islamophobia, bullying,” said Silyan-Saba.
The mayor’s office said funds from the grant would also support things like youth leadership, promoting mental health services, and community network building.

Bonin also urged the council to consider the current political and racial climate and mentioned that the Supreme Court had just upheld the travel ban last week, affecting mostly Muslim-majority countries.

“This is not the right time,” he said. “Now of all times with what is happening in this country, this is the wrong time to embrace this program and participate with it.”
“I don’t think we can form a partnership with the Trump administration on terrorism when they are very clearly determined to racially profile in this country,” added Bonin.

Transparency concerns

Just days before the Tuesday meeting, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the city for not fully answering Public Records Acts requests for information on how the funding will be used and what conditions are to be imposed by federal officials.

Filing the lawsuit were Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA), the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – Greater Los Angeles Chapter, and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.  Islamophobia fighting group Vigilant Love Coalition serves as plaintiff.

Among issues voiced at the council meeting was that of the role of law enforcement agencies which the mayor’s office has said would not be involved in programming funded by the grant.

Aware of the concern, Silyan-Saba said that giving back the grant “will leave a vacuum for law enforcement solutions only.”

She added, “Giving back this money will put the money back in the U.S. Treasury which will essentially leave it open for this administration to do as they please with it.”
But critics say they have still have reason to be concerned.

“When you look at it nationally, the majority of the grants being given out are being given to law enforcement agencies,” Asmaa Ahmed, policy manager/policy and advocacy coordinator of CAIR-LA, told the Asian Journal.

According to Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, it found that the amount of CVE funding going to law enforcement under the Trump administration’s changes has tripled, from $764,000 to $2,340,000.

“So there is really no way to isolate the LA program from what is going on nationally,” she added.

Laboni Hoq, litigation director of Advancing Justice – LA, said that the CVE program is part and parcel of a related CVE project that has been going on with the Los Angeles Police Department for years.

In December of 2016, the “Recognizing Extremist Network Early Warnings” or RENEW approach was rolled out through a partnership by the FBI and the LAPD which critics said was the Los Angeles manifestation of the CVE program.

“So to say this is not aligned with law enforcement is not accurate and is not being honest with the public,” Hoq told the Asian Journal.

Advocates against CVE also at the meeting voiced contempt with the mayor’s office claim of having wide support.

“CAIR is the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country, and we are against this,” said Ahmed, adding that they have a petition with over 1,500 signatures asking the city to vote no on CVE, and an organization sign-on letter with approximately 70 organizations against CVE.

Among institutions and organizations said to be in support of CVE include the UCLA School of Public Health, the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, Muslims for Progressive Values, and the American Jewish Foundation, said Silyan-Saba.

Hearing certain institutions like UCLA mentioned surprised many opposers against CVE.

Hoq explained that it was a misnomer to say that UCLA, as an institution, supports CVE.

While an individual from the UCLA School of Public Health has expressed support, Hoq said it doesn’t necessarily mean that UCLA or the department endorses CVE.

Impact on greater minority community

At the meeting, many also held signs saying “CVE is anti-Black” and “CVE criminalizes black and brown youth,” as public comments expressed concerns of the program’s effect on other minority groups.

According to the Brennan Center, at least 85 percent of CVE grants, and over half of CVE programs, now explicitly target minority groups, including Muslims, LGBTQ Americans, Black Lives Matter Activists, immigrants, and refugees.

Hoq said aside from continuing to push for a no-vote from city council members, they will be working on further educating communities about what they know about the program.

“[This] should cause everybody to pause — to think whether or not they need to stand up against this as well,” said Hoq.

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