Imam Umar Defense Committee

Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace

 

Dear Friends,

Imam Umar was sentenced yesterday to one year of home confinement. He will not have to use an ankle bracelet; he can leave his home for work and medical visits, and for religious reasons. He was also fined $100. He is planning to appeal the sentence.

No crime was committed by Imam Umar, other than the crime of being Black and Muslim. There was, however, a crime committed by the government against Imam Umar; the sentence, therefore, while relatively light, is nonetheless unjust.

This case is a perfect example of what Malcolm X talked about: how in this country, "they make the criminal into the victim and the victim into the criminal."

During the court session at which he was sentenced, Imam Umar gave a wonderful speech that moved everyone in the room. He talked about the slanderous article in the Wall Street Journal and the attacks made against him by Senator Schumer and Governor Pataki. He talked about the prosecution's refusal to return the belongings they took from his homes and about how, when he was arrested on the gun charge, he spent four days in jail because the prosecutor told the judge he was a dangerous man. While in jail, he was denied his medicine and the kind of food he is required to eat as an observant Muslim. When he left the jail, they told him that they had lost his clothes, and so he was forced to go out in the cold wearing a thin jail garment. During his speech, he pulled the jail clothes from a bag and gave them back to the federal prosecutor.

Umar talked about his upbringing and the decisions he had made to live in pursuit of peace, justice, and prosperity, which he described as core values of his religion. He stated that he could not accept wearing an ankle bracelet on home arrest; he views this as a throwback to slavery, and he could not do this in front of his young children. He described the trauma his youngest child experienced when his home was invaded by the New York City Police and the fact that the child still has nightmares about this.

Umar talked about how some of his co-workers, some other Muslims, and some friends abandoned him because they became afraid after he was attacked. He told the court how members of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace rallied behind him.

Before pronouncing the sentence, the judge talked for a long time. He related how Imam Umar bought the shotgun and the rifle, the subjects of the trial, about 20 years ago while living on a farm in
Orange County. The judge also had lived in that area. The judge asked Imam Umar if he remembered the case of the correction officers from the area who had been fired from their jobs. Imam Umar replied that he did remember, and that the officers were fired for being members of the KKK. The judge asked if Umar bought the guns as protection from them. Umar said he had not; he bought them mainly for recreational purposes.

The judge went over how Umar had turned his life around after being arrested as a teenager. He mentioned that he had committed no crimes during the intervening 38 years, that he had raised a family of nine children who had turned out to be exemplary people. He pointed to Imam Umar's fatherhood and family as examples to be emulated.

Judge Patterson also talked about the Wall Street Journal article, which the prosecution wanted him to take into consideration in deciding the sentence. The judge explained that he believes the New York Times recently took the Pope's comments about Muslims out of context and that he had no doubt that the Wall Street Journal had done the same with Imam Umar. He mentioned that the Wall Street Journal had reported that Imam Umar "called the 9/11 hijackers martyrs," but that Umar had immediately corrected the Journal, stating that what he had actually said was that the 9/11 hijackers "considered themselves martyrs." Therefore, the judge refused to take the article into consideration.

The federal courts have sentencing guidelines that are not absolute, but a judge must cite reasons to divert from them. Apparently, this judge did not follow the guidelines; he seemed to try very hard to find mitigating circumstances. But what he appeared to take into consideration above all other factors was Umar's character, his history of working for the Department of Corrections, and his value as a father, as a husband, and as a member of his community. In this regard, he mentioned the letters that many of us wrote in support of Imam Umar. The judge went through these letters one by one, explaining who had written them: "This one is from a neighbor; this one from an MD; this one from a professor, etc."

Judge Patterson appeared to have a difficult time stating the sentence. He held his head in his hand and looked away while pronouncing the sentence.

The $100 fine was clearly a slap in the face of the prosecutor. The home confinement, at least, is keeping Umar out of jail and with his family.

Ron Kuby has 10 days to file an appeal. Imam Umar wants to continue to push for the justice that he deserves. He intends to sue the NYPD and others for the home invasions and to continue his fight for justice.

Please see the Imam Umar Defense Committee web page at nepajac.org/ImamUmar.htm (to be updated soon).

Peace,

Joe Lombardo

 

Imam Umar is a resident of Bethlehem, NY, which is near Albany.  He spent 25 year as a chaplain in the New York State Prison system.  He was one of the first two Muslims chaplains in prisons in the entire United States.  He went on to become the Ministerial Program Coordinator for the New York State Department of Correctional Services.  He founded the National Association of Muslim Chaplains and became its president.  Imam Umar has a supportive family with 9 children.  He has led an exemplary life of devotion to his faith, to the struggle for social justice and in support of his family and community.

 

After the attacks on 9/11, The US government sought to foster an atmosphere of fear in this country as a way of mobilizing people for war.  The targets of their fear campaign were Arabs and Muslims around the world and in the United States, who were branded as terrorists or supporters of terrorism.  President Bush proclaimed that the US was attacked because these people hate our freedom and democracy.  Imam Umar explained that this is not true.  He explained that people throughout the world all love freedom and democracy but that many people, especially in the third world, have legitimate grievances against the United States and unless these were seriously looked at and addressed, we could never hope to stop terrorism.

 

This kind of talk coming from a Black man and a Muslim could not be tolerated during the US build up for war and so Imam Umar was attacked by the government and the news media.  They characterized him as pushing terrorism within the Muslim prison population.  Articles against him appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other newspapers and news media.  New York Governor Pataki and Senator Schumer spoke out against Imam Umar.  Pataki denied him access to the New York State prisons and Schumer called for the firing of all Muslim chaplains in the State prison system.

 

Today, the attacks continue and Imam Umar has been arrested on a felony charge in the Federal court.  For a fact sheet on the present situation, please click here: fact Sheet.    

 

 

Please click here to view pictures of the protest after Imam Umarís hearing

 

For more information on the Imam Umar case, please contact Bethlehem Neighbors for peace at 518-439-1968 or www.bethlehemforpeace.org