Safa Daftani stood in a crowd Sunday at the Inner Harbor holding a sign with a flow chart on it. “Are you Black? Muslim? Human?” it read. “Then why aren’t you outraged?!!”
The 16-year-old high school junior from central New Jersey had traveled to Baltimore with more than 20,000 other Muslims to attend the annual Islamic Circle of North America conference over the weekend. Hundreds of them came to McKeldin Square Sunday to protest the fatal shooting of an unarmed black Muslim man, Stephon Clark, by police in Sacramento, Calif., on March 18.
“At the end of the day, it’s human dignity,” she said. “People are desensitized. They hear ‘unarmed black man,’ ‘unarmed black man.’ He was a father, he was a husband, he was a brother. It hits home.”
Clark, 22, was shot in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento by a pair of police officers responding to a report of someone breaking car windows. Autopsy results released by the family said that he was shot six times in the back.
His death has prompted daily marches demanding justice in California’s capital city and others elsewhere around the country. The Baltimore-based Muslim Social Services Agency and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, organized the effort here.
Police say they believe Clark was the suspect and he ran when a police helicopter responded, then did not obey officers’ orders.
That should have been no reason to shoot him, said Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University.
“Why did he turn around and run?” Suleiman asked. “The way that police have been acting in this country — if they identified themselves as police officers — he still should have turned and ran away. ... Philando [Castile] didn’t run from the police. Alton Sterling didn’t run from the police. Jordan Edwards didn’t run from the police. So don’t tell me this is Stephon’s fault for turning and running away.”
Suleiman contrasted the officers’ handling of the incident with those in South Carolina who managed to take Dylann Roof into custody unharmed after the white supremacist killed nine black worshippers in a historic church in Charleston in 2015.
“Tell me that this is civilized,” he said. “Tell me that this is a democracy. Tell me that we don’t have organized terrorism right now against communities of color.”
Del. Bilal Ali, Baltimore’s sole Muslim delegate, took particular issue with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ characterization of Clark’s shooting as a “local matter” that “should be left up to local authorities.”
“It’s totally insane,” Ali said. “This has been a systemic issue since the beginning of people of color touching these shores. We have empirical data that clearly shows that these types of atrocities have been happening to people of color for years.”
Karim Amin and his wife brought their 9-year-old, Rania, and their 3-year-old, Karim Jr., to the rally. Rania, a fifth-grader, said the event made her feel “like I can do anything.”
Amin, the head organizer and president of the Muslim Social Services Agency, said Sunday’s protest was a chance to harness the power of the tens of thousands of Muslims in town for the conference.
“You have to take advantage of those moments,” he said. “A large portion of the conference was about social justice.”
Mazen Mokhtar, executive director of the Muslim American Society, led the crowd in a call-and-response. “What was his name?” he shouted. “Stephon Clark!” they responded. “Don’t forget it!” he said.
Many American Muslims shied away from public activism following a wave of Islamophobia after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Mokhtar said. But in recent years, that community has waded back into the social conversation — and rightly so, he said.
“We are part and parcel of the story,” he said.
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the New York-based organization MPower Change and a board member of the Women’s March, reminded the group that Islam requires consistency and persistence in worship and in the pursuit of justice.
“Until we are consistent voices for justice, you are not living up to being a whole Muslim,” she said. “Activism is not a choice, sisters and brothers. It is your Muslim obligation to stand against injustice.”
She and others noted the number of young faces, who often understand better than their elders the interconnected nature of society’s injustices. Blacks have faced discrimination from within the Muslim community, several of the speakers acknowledged.
“Young Muslims are intersectional,” Sarsour said. “The Muslim community is becoming organized, building power, coming out into the public and demanding justice.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.