Sep 6, 2012

Houston Police Scores High on Sensitivity

By Saadia Faruqi

Last week was my last in a year-long cultural sensitivity training for the Houston Police Academy, and I have to say that I felt just a little bit sad to see the end of such a great program. Being part of an interfaith and inter-cultural panel who were willing to give of their time and expertise seemed to me, the epitome of tolerance and respect which make this city so open and inviting.

As I have mentioned before, the Houston Police Academy have embarked on a historic journey with this cultural sensitivity program, mandatory for every one of their officers from the highest position to the lowest. Working in the melting pot that is Houston, the HPD obviously realized that learning about each other solves many problems that arise due to ignorance. Their officers would make cultural faux pas when dealing with those they didn't know much about... Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, Buddhists, Sikhs, and every other non-white person on the streets. Well, guess what? That non-white group is now the majority in Houston and many other cities across the United States.

While many other police departments have assumed the worst and treated those different from themselves as suspect (NYPD's offensive training and surveillance of innocent Muslims are cases in point), HPD is going the other way. The cultural sensitivity program began in 2011 to train their officers the important cultural do's and don'ts of four rapidly growing Houstonian groups: Asians, African Americans, Jews and Muslims. For a year, the four teams taught the officers a lot about their problems and needs, and the officers in return asked some burning questions on their minds.

The questions I was asked repeatedly, and which I was glad to answer, were all about Muslim women ... why we wear the hijab, why we don't speak up and report crimes, what are the cultural taboos when dealing with us, and so forth. There were also lots of questions about the current political situation in the country and around the world. I felt incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to address so many men and women of influence, and help them to their jobs more effectively. Congratulations to the HPD for the successful completion of a much-needed program!
Saadia Faruqi is the interfaith liaison for the  women's group of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and editor of Interfaith Houston. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Ahmadiyya Community or Interfaith Houston.

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