Wearing turbans and cleric collars, black robes and an American flag jacket, Chicago representatives of more than 15 faiths came together Monday to sign a commitment to condemn hate crimes and to work with law enforcement agencies to prevent them.
Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard told the group that officers are providing special protection to neighborhoods with high Muslim and Sikh populations.
Since Sept. 11, the Chicago Police Department has arrested 13 people in connection with suspected hate crimes, said spokesman David Bayless. The incidents involve oral assaults, graffiti, attacks on taxi drivers and arson.
Authorities are investigating a suspected arson early Sunday at St. John's Assyrian American Church on the North Side, which has a congregation of Middle Eastern descent.
"The acts of backlash are a terrorism of sorts," said Kareem Irfan, president of the Council of Islamic Organizations. "We are all here because we realize that the common good is far greater than the evil of a few."
The National Conference for Community and Justice organized the news conference in Chicago to, among other things, affirm its commitment to educate its members in the beliefs and practices of different religions and to hold members of religious communities responsible for speaking out against hate and violence.
The group could not offer more specifics.
"Our goal is to make America safe for difference," said Rev. Stanley L. Davis, Jr., NCCJ executive director.
Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, said the city is witnessing "a mini-wave of intolerance and racism." Chicago Jews, he promised, will "link arms" to defend mosques from such hatred.
G.B. Starr-Bresette of the ANAWIM Center for Native American Spirituality said leaders need to reach beyond their communities: "The best sermon is spreading the word to those outside of the faith."
In upcoming weeks, Irfan urged a "restrained and humane" reaction to the attacks on America.