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Baltimore Police, African-American Muslims Forge a Relationship

  • Deborah Block

Children at a predominately African-American Islamic school in Balitmore listen and respond as police officer Robert Horne, Baltimore's Islamic liaison, speaks with the students about pertinent issues, February 2011

African Americans first introduced Islam to the east coast city of Baltimore 65 years ago. Today, more than 60 percent of the city's 630,000 residents are black. About 5000 of them are African-American Muslims. Some African Americans in Baltimore, including Muslims, distrust the police. To foster good relations, the department has an Islamic liaison.

Police officer Robert Horne is Baltimore's Islamic liaison. On this day, he is visiting a predominately African-American Islamic school to help the children better understand what police do.

"How many of you are learning Arabic?" he asked. Horne speaks Arabic and is teaching the children some Arabic words. He said he wants to show that the police can be their friend.

"Just to kind of show them that there are officers who are bilingual, who have an understanding of the same culture and language that they’re studying," said Horne.

Akilah Rabb is the head of the school. She said she's glad that Horne stopped by. "We have someone we can trust to communicate on our behalf and also to be sensitive to our community's needs."

Horne said he plays many roles. "You’re a counselor, you’re a big brother, you’re a mentor, you’re all these things wrapped up into one.”"

Horne began his career patrolling the area around this Muslim Community Cultural Center. He developed a relationship with the people and became Muslim.

Earl el-Amin, the Imam, said Horne has encouraged a rapport between the police and African-American Muslims, "which has allowed us to establish a viable relationship based on truth and honesty”"

Horne agreed relations are generally good, but said mistrust grew after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He said he reassured Muslims that the police wouldn't target them.

"Many of them were afraid that the police would stereotype them, that they would just enter into the mosque and there would be surveillance on the mosque and things of this nature," said Horne.

Horne said Baltimore police learn about Islam and Muslims. Omar Davis, President of the Baltimore City Muslim Council, said his group provided the training requested by the police. "One of the concerns that some of the officers had expressed to us is that when they get called on various police calls, that they wanted to be respectful of the person of the culture. They don’t want to come off as being disrespectful."

Horne said he hopes he has helped bridge the gap between the police and African American Muslims, especially the younger generation who he said is the future of the community.