Former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti participated in a panel discussion about terrorism, homeland security and the importance of engaging communities Thursday in the Trojan Family Room of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
In addition to Clinton and Garcetti, the panel included Jim Featherstone, former general manager of the L.A. Emergency Management department; Joumana Silvan-Saba, senior policy analyst for the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission; Salam Al-Marayati, president and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and Brie Loskota, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC.
The panel discussion came at a time when terrorism and security are at the forefront of national conversation after terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium earlier this week. In his opening remarks, Garcetti not only praised the city’s law enforcement, but also emphasized the need for community policing.
“For every officer that we have in the right location … we also know it’s as important, if not more important, to have an officer engage in a relationship with our diverse communities, strengthening the friendships and speaking out against intolerance,” Garcetti said.
Clinton thanked Garcetti for convening the panel and emphasized the need to hear from the panelists about their work in Los Angeles communities and not “hot rhetoric and demagoguery.”
Clinton related a story of a taxi driver, whom she said was of Moroccan descent, who reached out to law enforcement following the attacks in Brussels as an example of the importance of community in efforts to combat terrorism.
“We cannot allow our nation to be pitting groups of people against one another,” Clinton said. “We cannot give in to panic and fear. That’s not in keeping with our values. It’s not effective in protecting us and it plays into the hands of terrorists who want nothing more than to intimidate and terrorize people.”
Silvan-Saba continued the emphasis on community partnerships and their importance in preventing acts of violence. She said that because of the many years of work building partnerships between local and federal law enforcement as well as with communities, Los Angeles was recognized by the White House as a model at a summit in February 2015.
“It’s healthy, strong resilient communities who are really our strongest defense against violence, all forms of violence and particularly ideologically motivated violence,” Silvan-Saba said.
Silvan-Saba said that governments and law enforcement agencies should devote resources to strengthening initiatives that are “community supported and community driven.”
Al-Marayati, who is a graduate of UCLA, joked about the rivalry between USC and his alma mater, using it as light-hearted example of the divisiveness that Clinton and others warned against.
“We cannot win with a them versus us mentality,” Al-Marayati said. “We need to all be on the same team in effective counter terrorism policy, not be fighting each other, as the Secretary said, that’s exactly what ISIS wants. They see this is as a war with Islam and the West and the more you fuel that rhetoric, the more you play into their hands.”
Al-Marayati said that American Muslims have a difficult time being heard, and that there needs to be an effort to “amplify the moderate voice.”
“ISIS represents cruelty, Islam represents mercy. ISIS represents destructive behavior, Islam says to go and build civilization,” Al-Marayati said.
Clinton expanded on Al-Marayati’s point about the lack of moderate voices. She said that the abundance of information today makes it difficult for moderate voices to be heard and that society should make an effort to “elevate” those voices.
“The way you get eyes or ears is to be provocative, even extreme, to say things that are going to draw attention,” Clinton said.
Loskota spoke about the work of her center, which was created after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. She said the center views communities “not as a problem to be solved, but as a tool to be unlocked.”
Clinton noted the efforts of the Somali community in Minneapolis when it was discovered that some members were being recruited into Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. She said that the community was eager to help address the issue, but some members were being turned away by political rhetoric.
Garcetti said that communities should be involved in collaborative efforts apart from counterterrorism in order to bring them together and Loskota said the government should work to “reduce the barriers to participation” for communities.
Al-Marayati said there should be a partnership between community and law enforcement so that law enforcement handles criminal justice and communities deal with ideological and social issues. He said that one in six terrorist plots have been foiled because community members came forward.
“The mosques have rejected the ideology of ISIS and al-Qaeda because we feel that America is our home,” he said. “Home is not where my grandparents are buried; home is where my grandchildren are going to be raised.”
Featherstone said that groups can get involved by “convening and empowering.” He said that governments and other actors can “provide the forum for the various groups and factions to come together.”
The event was coordinated by the mayor’s office who reached out to the Undergraduate Student Government and the Political Student Assembly to provide a venue for the event and invite students to attend.
“For us as a student community to be able to engage on these topics and provide our input and start discussions is a really beautiful thing,” USG President Rini Sampath said.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 11:15 p.m.