Terrorism suffered a defeat at midday Friday, as NYPD Officer Shawqi Ahmed removed his shoes and knelt on one of the carpets spread on the sidewalk outside the Jamaica Muslim Center In Queens.
Dozens of worshipers knelt along with him and there were many more inside. An overflow crowd had assembled for the formal renaming of this block of 168th Street to JMC Way.
The event had taken on sudden added significance with word of the mass shootings during Friday midday prayers at two mosques on the other side of the world, a 17-hour time difference away. The organizers of the street renaming event had called the NYPD to ask if they should cancel.
“Don’t cancel,” an NYPD official told them. “We’ll protect you.”
Teams of helmeted cops from Strategic Response Group 4 were positioned with heavy weapons on either side of the center. The patrol cops detailed from the local 107th Precinct included Ahmed and Officer Terrence Shepherd, who were by the center’s entrance as the faithful spread oriental carpets and blue tarps on the pavement.
Loudspeakers carried the words of Imam Lafar Baig from inside the JMC to the street. He spoke of the horror in the New Zealand mosques.
“A terrorist attack in the most sacred of places,” he lamented.
He said that the loss extended beyond those whose loved ones were among the dead in Christchurch..
“Condolences should be shared with the entire human race,” he said. “Irrespective of our religion, our culture, our language.”
But even as they mourned the dead at the mosques in New Zealand, they were proceeding with the unveiling of a new street sign in Queens that was also a sign post on the way to tolerance and inclusion.
“We don't want to forget our purpose and our mission in this world, in this country,” he said. “We are Americans and we are Muslims and we love this country.”
As the time came for prayer, Ahmed removed his shoes and joined the faithful who stood on the carpets in their stocking feet. He is Yemen born, Brooklyn raised, has a masters degree in international affairs and has been a cop for 13 years. His presence was saying not just we’ll protect you, but also we ARE you.
Ahmed did as everyone else on the carpets and tarps did; kneeling, bowing forward. He was the unassuming personification of devotion in a gun belt.
The service done, Ahmed put this shoes back on and kept watch along with his partner Shepherd and the other cops as a series of officials gave speeches. The final speaker was NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.
“We are in contact with our partners in the New Zealand police with whom we have a long term, excellent relationship,” O’Neill said.
Among the other cops present was one who had met New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush during his visits to New York. The New York cop had seen a different man appear on television in the aftermath of the massacre. Bush looked stunned, shaken.
“They thought it couldn't happen there,” the New York cop said.
The cop had also seen the video the killer had made while going live on Facebook during the shooting. The killer had gone back to shoot people he had already shot.
“He ran out of victims,” the New York cop now said.
The shooter may well have been inspired by a 2016 “dying live” video made by an ISIS ghoul who murdered a French police captain at his home, then tortured and killed his wife while their 3-year-old son cowered behind a sofa. The New York cop noted that ideology was just a pretext for the French ghoul and the New Zealand killer. They had both been seeking attention and significance to otherwise thwarted and and empty lives.
“Losers,” the New York cop said. “They’re just losers.”
After the speeches were done, the crowd went down the street, where a JMC official pulled a piece of twine attached the a canvass sleeve masking a new street sign. The sleeve came away to reveal “JMC WAY.”
Ahmed and his partner stood off to the side, chatting with a man and his pre-teen son while also keeping a watchful eye. Ahmed recognized that the new street sign in Queens was a cause to smile in the face of all the world’s troubles.
“Diversity is our wealth,” he said.