#IllWalkWithYou: Downtown LA march spotlights safety for Muslims

Los Angeles City Hall.
Los Angeles City Hall.
Alice Walton/KPCC

As the nation held memorials for the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, dozens of people were gathering downtown L.A. Sunday to highlight growing concerns about the personal safety of American Muslims.

“In recent weeks, we’ve noticed that unfortunately there’s been a higher rate of hate crimes against Muslims or those who appear to be Muslim,” said Crystal Keshawarz, director of communications for Muslims for Progressive Values, the organization leading Sunday's event.

The group planned a march to begin at Pershing Square around 2 p.m. Sunday, culminating in a rally and candlelight vigil at City Hall. It was titled “#IllWalkWithYou,” a hashtag that emerged in August after a New York City imam and his assistant were fatally shot on a street in Queens. In the wake of the shooting, Twitter users began using the hashtag to express support for Muslims and offer to accompany them to their place of worship.

But Keshawarz said Sunday’s rally was meant to go a step beyond just spotlighting safety concerns, and “send a message that the power of fear shall not overcome us as a city.”

Reports of hate crimes against Muslims in L.A. County have been on the rise in recent months. The L.A. County Commission on Human Relations tallied 11 hate crimes involving Islamophobia during the last two months of 2015, up from just one during the same period the year before.

Hate-related incidents – harassment or other incidents that don’t rise to the level of hate crimes – more than doubled in L.A. County between 2014 and 2015, from 41 to 97, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Keshawarz told KPCC her organization had also received reports of Muslim women getting their hijabs snatched off their heads, and others being verbally or physically assaulted.

But she said she hoped the rally would encourage those with trepidations about American Muslims to reach out to the community.

“Go to the mosque, or to a Muslim faith-based organization. The doors will never be closed to anyone,” she said. “Ask a Muslim a question. Get to know your neighbors. There’s no reason to live in fear.”