San Francisco police Chief George Gascon was greeted with applause this afternoon by hundreds of members of the local Muslim community after offering a public apology for statements he made last week on terrorism.
“I am very sorry that I offended you,” Gascon told the audience–many of whom were from the local Yemeni, Afghan and Pakistani communities–following their afternoon prayer service, held in a downtown hotel conference hall in order to accommodate the crowd.
“That was never my intent,” he said.
Gascon ignited a furor among some in the community over remarks he
made at a breakfast meeting last week in San Francisco, in which he reportedly singled out the Yemeni and Afghan communities in reference to the possibility of terrorist acts in San Francisco.
About a dozen groups then wrote Gascon, calling his statements “inflammatory” and “insulting.” They cited the possibility of an increase in hate crimes against local Muslims and those of Middle Eastern background.
Gascon later said he had referred to both international and domestic terrorism, but issued a statement of apology and this week met with leaders from various Muslim and Middle Eastern communities.
“The reality is, our safety is a joint effort, and it is a shared responsibility,” he told the audience today, stressing that he had “the utmost respect” for the Yemeni and Afghan communities, as well as every community in San Francisco.
“I’m deeply honored, and I’m also deeply sorry for what occurred,” he said.
Gascon’s remarks today were met with enthusiastic applause, and leaders from the community said they accepted his apology and hoped for a more active relationship with the Police Department.
“The dialogue starts here,” said Adel Syed, civil rights coordinator for the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
“Security starts with understanding, and dialogue,” he said.
Before Gascon departed, he was presented with a Koran.
“Basically, the community wants to make sure that they’re not treated as a suspect community,” Syed said afterward.
Gascon’s appearance today “was a testament to his service, and his cooperation with the community,” Syed said.
“I think people in the Muslim community are very open-hearted,” he said. “But it’s what happens next that’s important.”
Mansoor Ismael, honorary consul of the Republic of Yemen for San Francisco, agreed that the community had accepted Gascon’s apology. He said the Yemeni community in San Francisco is estimated at between 8,000 and 11,000.
“I’m sure that from now on we’ll work together,” he said.
Police spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka said she too was pleased by today’s response from the Muslim community, adding that a future town hall meeting between Gascon and the community was “a possibility.”
“We hoped for the best, but that was better than we expected,” Tomioka said. “They were so gracious and warm with him.”