MIAMI – Nezar Hamze stood in front of the Miami Commission last week, holding back tears before thanking officials for placing a resolution condemning hate speech and violence against Muslims on the agenda.
Hamze looked down, cleared his voice and began to speak.
"Wanted to thank you for your courage commissioner," Hamze, operations director with the Council of American-Islamic Relations, and Broward Sheriff's Office deputy. "As a father I appreciate your courage. It's hard raising children when politicians attack your faith and for you to have the courage, the political courage, which is often absent, is tremendous."
On Oct. 13, the commission passed a resolution condemning hate speech and violence directed at Muslims. The item was intended to show "solidarity with Muslims and those targeted for their ethnicity, race, or religion."
The item was sponsored by Vice Chair Ken Russell and passed unanimously by the commission.
Russell said there are thousands of Muslim residents in Miami who have "needed a voice to speak for them."
"And it's not about courage as a politician, it's simply heartfelt empathy for someone's freedom to express their religion and not be persecuted for it," Russell said. "And to recognize it as a religion of love. Not to judge a group of people by the minority few within their population that commit bad crimes."
There are about 27 Islamic centers in Miami-Dade County and about 60 in the tri-county area, with close to 120,000 to 140,000 Muslims living in the tri-county area, according to Wilfredo Ruiz, communications director with CAIR Florida.
Ruiz supported the item and spoke at the meeting, thanking the commission for the resolution during the meeting.
He said that there has been an increase in Islamophobia that has been "raised by some politicians on all levels, local, state and national levels." Ruiz said there has been a 500 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in Florida in the past year.
"Resolutions like this really help foster a better environment, where the contributions of this many Muslims that have served and keep on serving our nation are protected, and we are embraced as another part of the American fabric," Ruiz said.
Shabbir Motorwala, of the Council of South Florida Muslim Organizations, also spoke in its favor.
"It's a very strong message the city will be sending to the people preaching about the hate, not against Muslims, but against anybody," he said. "The Muslim community is really pleased with this resolution, and I hope this will send a strong message to hate-mongers around the country."
Before the vote, Commissioner Frank Carollo called for the resolution to be amended to include people of all races, religions, sexual orientations and immigration status.
"It's not meant to be a blanket statement," Russell responded. "I really brought this up because there is an epidemic of hate crimes against Muslims, bullying against Muslim children and our fear over national security is starting to affect the way we treat our fellow human beings. It's creating an overtone of racism, of an ethnic divisiveness that I believe we need to take a stand on."
After the item was passed, Carollo asked for similar resolution to be brought forward that would include language condemning hate speech against all groups of people.
The council agreed to that item.