Houston Matters

Houston Police Increase Patrols At Area Mosques After New Zealand Mass Shootings

Mayor Sylvester Turner says “there are no words to describe the horror the victims must have felt.”

People wait outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019.

Houstonians are reacting to the mass shootings in two New Zealand mosques that left at least 49 people dead and dozens more injured. New Zealand police have charged a 28-year-old man with murder, and have taken two others into custody. A fourth person turned out to have been arrested on an unrelated charge.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke to News 88.7 and said whenever a crime like this occurs, one of the first fears of law enforcement is the risk of a copycat. “You start thinking about copycats and people watching this news,” he said, “and then you add mental illness and hatred and everything else that goes along with it.”

“You not only worry about Houston, ” Acevedo added, “but you worry about the entire country and someone doing the same thing here. “

Mayor Sylvester Turner held a news conference to condemn the attacks. “There are no words, absolutely no words, to describe the horror the victims must have felt,” he said.

Turner noted the Houston Police Department is increasing patrols around the 30-plus mosques located across Houston.

Turner and the police chief are also asking anyone in the Houston community to come forward if they see or hear anything suspicious.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has also directed his agency to increase patrolling around mosques.

Sobia Siddiqui, with the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Houston Matters they “are encouraging the Muslim community to not lose hope, not give into fear, go and pray, and pray for the families and pray for the victims.”

Siddiqui also said that hate crimes and incidents are under-reported in Houston and her organization doesn’t know “a hundred percent what the population, the Muslim population, is suffering.”

She added local mosques have been advised to beef up security and imams and worshipers are being advised to be vigilant. “Thankfully, the Houston Police Department and other police departments have been working their way and understanding that their community needs them right now,” Siddiqui said.

CAIR Houston held a news conference to react to the mass shootings.

Kristin Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown, told Craig Cohen she fears hate crimes could increase because of current political rhetoric. “So it’s not just mosques that have to be vigilant,” she said, “it’s synagogues, it’s black churches, I mean they’ve all been hit, and the queer community.” 

The Southwest Region chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), based in Houston, sent out a statement denouncing the mass shootings. “We urge our leaders and people everywhere to speak out consistently and with one voice against hateful extremism and hate-fueled violence.” 

Mosques in Texas and Houston have also been attacked in recent years. In January 2017 Marq Vincent Perez burned the Victoria Islamic Center to the ground, and was later found guilty of a hate crime for destroying a place of worship.

In July of 2018, a mosque located in east Harris County was the target of attempted arson, although the fire was quickly put out and there was minimal damage. And earlier this year, bullet holes were found in the wall of a Katy mosque, and a family who attends the mosque said someone fired shots at their home. 

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Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

General Assignment Reporter

Alvaro 'Al' Ortiz is originally from Spain. He worked for several years in his home country and gained experience in all platforms of journalism, from wire services to print, as well as broadcast news and digital reporting. In 2001, Al came to the United States to pursue a Master's degree...

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