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Elected officials address possible hate crime at Jamaica Muslim Center

By Graciano Clause and Mark Hallum

Members of the Jamaica Muslim Center, along with elected officials and others from the Muslim community in Queens, held a rally Friday at the center in the wake of a recent attack on its premises.

Muslims have called for the suspect to be charged with a hate crime.

According to police reports, Michael Voyard, 26, entered the Queens mosque at 85-37 168th St. high on synthetic marijuana, known as K2, and cocaine during noon prayers April 19. Voyard yelled anti-Islam and anti-Muslim slurs, before getting into an altercation with several congregants, punching and kicking people repeatedly, police said. Ten people were injured, three of them seriously. One congregant, a 69-year-old man, was hospitalized after suffering bruising to his face and a brain hemorrhage, police said.

In surveillance footage shown at the rally, Voyard can be seen wearing a white tank top and hitting a man in the face before being surrounded by the congregation and being driven out of the mosque by the crowd. He then stripped naked and was arrested by NYPD officers from the 107th Precinct.

He was charged with misdemeanor assault and was released April 22 after his arraignment.

At the rally, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) led a discussion in which city and congregation leaders addressed the incident and made statements in support of the Muslim community.

“We come together today as one community to support the Jamaica Muslim Center and those who were injured,” Lancman said. “This crime, including the potential bias motive, must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrator brought to justice.”

Lancman said the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Taskforce was investigating whether or not the attack was a hate crime.

“The Jamaica Muslim Center has been a place for worship for Muslims living in Jamaica and this travesty should not diminish the contribution their members have made in the community,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said.

He added that as the community learns about the reality of the disturbing incident, it should be remembered that the act of one person does not represent the many who choose to live peacefully in their neighborhoods.

“I am angered and disappointed each time I hear about an incident like the one that took place at the Jamaica Muslim Center on Tuesday,” said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows). “Violent attacks at places of worship cannot be taken lightly.”

The president of the center said the attack was clearly a hate crime.

“It absolutely should be considered a hate crime that our Muslim brothers and sisters were attacked by a stranger while praying,” said Mohammad Rahman, president of the center.

Weprin criticized the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been part of the national debate during the presidential primaries.

“It goes against everything that the United States stands for. It should be an offense to all Americans and all decent human beings,” he said.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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