By Stephen Witt
Call him the middle man between the city’s growing Islamic community and the NYPD. Last week, Erhan Yildirim, the city’s top community coordinator between cops and the Muslim community, came to the 70th Precinct Community Council meeting to explain his role as a liaison. There are between 300,000 and 350,000 people living in Brooklyn who are Muslim, he said. They come from all over the world, with the largest population from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Yildirim estimated. Yildirim, a Bensonhurst resident by way of Turkey, was appointed about eight months ago and works at police headquarters directly under Commissioner Ray Kelly. “They [Islamic community] don’t have the knowledge of how the police department is working here,” said Yildirim. “When you are in Turkey, for example, and are friends with the cops, they [public] don’t look at you as a good guy. But here the police department is almost like the civil service. They are here for you and there is a lot of explaining to be done towards the community. Of course on the other hand, we have to explain our faith and tradition to the cops,” he added. Yildirim said part of his job is explaining the Islamic faith and religion to police. “For example, when a Muslim woman doesn’t shake their hands, it is because of our faith. Those little things, like when you enter the mosque why you have to take off your shoes if it is not an emergency,” he said. On the flip side, Yildirim said it is up to his office to visit various mosques to let congregants know that if there’s an emergency and police have to respond to a mosque, they might not have time to take their shoes off. “Those little things make a difference,” he said. Among the projects that Yildirim’s office is in the midst of completing is a movie about Islam that will become part of the core curriculum at the Police Academy as well as being shown throughout neighborhoods in the city. The movie was already shown to all the city’s community affairs officers and then to leaders in the Muslim community for more input before it is completed, he said. In regard to immigration issues, Yildirim said workers from his office go out to the Islamic community and explain that the NYPD is not an immigration office and there is a city ordinance against cops asking any immigration status questions. Islamic clergy liaisons, who carry police IDs, also explain how to report and deal with such issues as domestic violence, illegal drug trafficking, encroachment of gangs, and how to observe possible terrorist planning, he said. Yildirim said these liaisons also explain citizen rights against excessive police force and issues such as racial profiling. “We explain they have the right to complain through the CCRB [Civilian Complaint Review Board] because if they know this, they feel more comfortable. In our countries we don’t have that, so we have to explain their rights and what freedoms they have here,” Yildirim said. Yildirim also dispelled they myth that terrorism is only connected to the Islamic community, and noted that the great majority of Muslims in this country came here like all immigrants – to seek better opportunities. “We live in harmony. There is no sense of doing anything bad. Every Muslim person here is trying to survive, make money and make a better future for their kids. I don’t agree that Islam is equal to terrorism,” said Yildirim. “Terrorism has no religion, no faith. We are good, law-abiding citizens, because that is what Islam says. When you live in that country, obey all the rules and laws that is that country. You have to pay all your taxes and obey rules and regulations,” he added.