FBI warns against religious, ethnic profiling

10:00 PM PST on Saturday, November 15, 2008
The Press-Enterprise

The chief of the Los Angeles FBI office spoke out against religious and ethnic profiling at a Riverside town hall meeting on Saturday, and told about 100 people that their help was needed to combat terrorism.

Salvador Hernandez, assistant director in charge for the Los Angeles field office, said he was at the forum to dispel myths about the FBI and so the public can find out more about what the agency does.

He answered questions about everything from wiretapping to cyber-terrorism.

Hernandez said that if people trust the FBI, they are more likely to report suspicious activity that could be linked to terrorism.

The forum was sponsored by the Los Angeles office of the FBI, which also serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and its Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee, which consists of about 20 community organizations.

Two town halls were held in 2006 in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

This was the first town hall in the Inland area.

Bir I.S. Grewall, a Sikh resident of Loma Linda, said the town hall helps "break barriers. Rather than it being them at law enforcement and us as a community, this makes it inclusive. We're all partners in this. By doing that, the FBI is multiplying itself as lookouts in the community and keeping the community safe."

Hernandez warned audience members not to profile people based upon their religion or ethnicity, or to focus on "mistruths" on religions such as Islam.

If the FBI singles out entire groups of people for surveillance, "then the terrorists have actually won," he said.

"Then the government is principled in a different way."

Instead, he said, the agency focuses on individuals who present a threat.

Dr. Harki Dhillon, an advisory committee member who helped organize the town hall meeting, said many immigrants come from countries where people have great fear of law enforcement.

"We are very lucky that we can live in a country where we can do something like this..., where law enforcement agents feel accountable to the public," he said.

Outside the meeting room was an FBI-recruitment banner that was illustrated with a woman with a veil: "Today's FBI. It's For You."

Reach David Olson at 951-368-9462 or dolson@PE.com

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