Posted on December 16, 2004

Officers Get Lesson in Sensitivity to Arabs

Juanita Westaby, The Grand Rapids Press, Dec. 14

EAST GRAND RAPIDS — The next time East Grand Rapids Officer Gary Parker sees a woman in traditional Islamic clothing, he will know what to say.

“‘Salaam alaikum (pronounced sa-lam a-like-um),’ which means ‘Peace be with you,’“ explained Karen Henry, a third-generation Arab-American, whose grandparents came from Lebanon and Syria.

During an Arab-Islamic sensitivity workshop for the department’s officers — the first in Kent County — Parker recalled seeing an Arabic family in Collins Park. The wife was wearing traditional clothing. Very little of her face or body was showing,

He conceded he was uncomfortable. But, as a black police officer, he wanted to get past that.

“If I had had to deal with that couple, I would have had a very hard time,” he said.

“The Arabs who dress that way are doing so out of very strong convictions,” Henry said. “They will wear the head-covering in opposition to the western culture. A lot of them believe our western values are in the toilet.”