Questions remain after shooting death of Boston Muslim
This undated self-portrait shows Usaama Rahim, who was shot to death in Boston, June 2 after investigators said he refused to drop a military-style knife.
By Ashahed M. Muhammad, The Final Call
(FinalCall.com) – Funeral services were held June 5 for Usaama Rahim, a 26-year-old Muslim shot and killed early in the morning of June 2 after being approached by members of the Boston Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
There are still many questions as to why he was approached in the manner he was, and what exactly transpired resulting in him being shot. What is known is that he ordered and received three large knives from Amazon.com—which is not illegal. It is being widely reported he had targeted Islamophobic Jewish leader Pamela Geller for a violent attack, but settled on Boston area police officers as an easier and more immediately available target. Authorities said he was under 24-hour surveillance; however at this point, the publicly released details are sketchy. Many Muslim leaders and organizations remain skeptical.
In a recent statement, The Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) sent condolences to the family of Mr. Rahim and called for an immediate and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.
“MANA’s continuing policy is that we do not and will not support acts of terrorism against any person or state; and that we recognize the need for fair and just apprehension and prosecution of any individual or group—Muslim or non-Muslim—who carries out or attempts to commit acts of terrorism,” the MANA statement continues. “We also recognized that both the Muslim and the Black communities in America continue to be subject to increasing levels of unwarranted surveillance, scrutiny and threat from both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local police forces nationwide. Given this reality, it is certainly not unreasonable for those communities to call for an investigation to determine whether or not the shooting death of Usaama Rahim is the result of discriminatory policing and/or excessive use of force. A clear and open investigation is not only warranted but necessary.”
According to legal records, the FBI said JTTF agents decided to confront Rahim after he, in a monitored telephone conversation, allegedly told David Wright of his plans to commit a violent attack. Media reports immediately spread word of plans of beheading, but nowhere in the released affidavit, nor in any other publicly available data does Rahim use the term.
Wright, to whom Mr. Rahim allegedly shared portions of his plot, remains in federal custody on a charge of conspiracy with intent to obstruct a federal investigation after reportedly advising Rahim to destroy his smartphone following whatever action he planned to take.
All references to beheading are from the FBI Special Agent J. Joseph Galietta’s interpretation of Rahim’s words. According to legal records, an intercepted phone call recorded Rahim allegedly saying: “I’m just going to, ah, go after them, those boys in blue.” The FBI’s affidavit supporting the criminal complaint against Mr. Wright again—according to Mr. Galietta’s interpretation—said the phrase “going on vacation” was code for “committing violent jihad.”
Boston Police Department Commissioner William Evans said according to the accounts of witnesses, and officers involved in the incident, prior to being shot, Rahim confronted officers with a “large military weapon,” once they approached him for questioning.
“All five officers walked up without their weapons to speak to this individual, and the video clearly shows shortly thereafter them all retreating back stepping because he’s coming at them. Now we can’t see the weapon but you can infer that these five guys aren’t retreating for no reason. As it turns out and he showed the weapon it was quite a large military weapon that he had in his hand,” Commissioner Evans said.
When asked by The Final Call if the officers were in uniform, Commissioner Evans said they were not; however, in his opinion, there could not have been any doubt in Rahim’s mind that he was being confronted by law enforcement.
“No they were undercover. There were FBI agents and Boston police, and our Boston police have their badges on their outer most garb, on a chain and I know there was a marked Boston police unit right behind the individual also. So between them identifying themselves, having their badges out and a marked unit being right there, there was no doubt he knew that these were FBI and Boston police,” said Commissioner Evans. “Unfortunately, the weapons of choice both by the cops and the victim weren’t visible, but you can infer there’s no other reason why five policemen would be back on their heels retreating with a guy coming at them other than they were facing an imminent threat,” he added.
A group of Boston-area clergy, Civil Rights leaders, and Muslim community leaders were invited by the commissioner, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s office to view the video footage on June 3. Family members were shown the video on June 4.
According to Commissioner Evans, this was done to ensure any rumors or concerns within the community were put to rest. Clearly the department wanted to avoid the violence and conflict seen across the country as a result of police shootings of unarmed Black men. In the cases of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo., and the death of Eric Garner in New York, the lack of transparency angered those interested in seeking justice for their deaths.
Because of the Islamophobic climate in America and the frequency of law enforcement using lethal force against unarmed people, many human rights activists in general and Muslims in particular were concerned when news of this shooting began to spread and vowed to remain vigilant as more facts are revealed.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) demanded more detailed legal information be released.
“It is our duty to question every police-involved shooting to determine if the use of deadly force was necessary, particularly given the recent high profile shootings of African-American men. We are asking for an independent and thorough investigation, public release of the video and transparency, not only about the killing of Usaama Rahim, but also about the basis of monitoring and surveillance, which had not resulted in probable cause for any arrest or search warrant,” said CAIR National Civil Rights Litigation Director Jenifer Wicks in a statement.
Wicks noted that this shooting incident was just days after CAIR’s Los Angeles chapter raised troubling questions about the Long Beach, Calif., police killing of 20-year old Feras Mourad, an unarmed college student.
Although it is being widely reported in the controlled media that Rahim charged officers with a knife, the Muslim leaders who viewed the video said no weapons were visible. Commissioner Evans described the alleged weapon as a “large military knife” and many in the media have reliably repeated that claim.
The video does show the initial claims that Rahim was shot in the back, were false, said Boston Nation of Islam representative Don Muhammad, who was among those called in by Commissioner Evans June 3 to view video footage of the shooting. A joint statement was quickly released by the leaders of Masjid Alhamdulillah, Masjid al-Quran, ICNA Relief Massachusetts and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center after they viewed the footage.
“The video we saw was from a nearby Burger King Security camera which was a great distance from the altercation. In addition, it was raining that morning. The images on the video are small in scale because of the distance from the security camera and are smaller silhouettes.” The statement continues, “Here is what we saw. A man (who the police informed us was Mr. Rahim) can be seen walking across the CVS parking lot to an area which is hidden behind a tree. The tree area is next to a main road and was not a bus stop. Three men (who the police informed us were plain clothes officers) approach Mr. Rahim near the tree area. As the three plain clothes officers get close to Mr. Rahim two additional men (who the police informed us were also officers) are seen running onto the scene and approach Mr. Rahim from either side. As soon as the additional officers approach Mr. Rahim you can see all officers back away. Mr. Rahim advances towards the officers, into the CVS parking lot where he is seen falling to the ground. The officers were in front of him at this time; it does not appear he was shot in the back. No weapons could be identified in the video; neither a knife nor a gun.”
While it is almost considered a foregone conclusion that every mosque or Islamic center is under surveillance, there is also the ever present specter of entrapment caused by confidential agents and informants working on behalf of the United States government to inspire “terrorism-related plots.”
Indeed it seems that all law enforcement needs to do is claim an individual is a “thug,” “terrorist” and now “ISIS sympathizer,” and that justifies the immediate use of lethal force in the minds of many.
The police and the FBI apparently had Rahim under surveillance for a while, however, the fact they did not find his activities threatening enough to get a warrant seems unusual to many. They instead chose to confront him to “question” him early in the morning in a parking lot?
Author and human rights activist Mauri Saalakhan, director of Peace Through Justice, responded to an e-mail query from The Final Call from London where he was speaking about the case of Muslim political prisoner Aafia Siddiqui.
“What happened to Usaama Abdullah Rahim raises many disturbing questions. If he was under surveillance for three years, the immediate question is, given the FBI’s past practices, what else were they doing beyond watching him? Another question raised by the official narrative revolves around Rahim’s mental state. Was he mentally ill, and if he was, was this condition callously exploited by the authorities? The official narrative, if true, has the hallmark of a ‘suicide by cop’ scenario. Again, this police homicide raises many uncomfortable questions. I pray that area community leaders will not allow it to be swept under the rug without serious answers.”
Executive director of the Arab American Association of New York Linda Sarsour tweeted: “As a New Yorker, I know being under surveillance is not selective, it’s most often unwarranted & blanket of Muslim communities. #UsaamaRahim.”
In death, the media describes Usaama Rahim as an ISIS sympathizer, however his family, and those familiar with the methods the media uses to craft narratives have asked the public to reserve judgment.
Imam Dawud Walid, who delivers sermons across the United States and is an outspoken critic of those practicing Islamophobia in all its manifestations, strongly challenged the media narrative posting to his Facebook account June 2: “The media is using the FBI’s narrative that our brother Usaama Rahim, who was killed this morning by law enforcement in Boston, was supposedly affiliated with Da’esh. I’m not quick to believe the FBI’s narrative about who was supposedly trying to join Da’esh. I have no reason to believe them in this case,” wrote Imam Walid who added that even if the media’s claims were true, he remains skeptical in any cases where police use lethal force against anyone. “We shouldn’t be intimidated to ask questions just because law enforcement gives a narrative. We’ve seen this too many times before from Imam Luqman Abdullah to Eric Gardner,” he added.