There are not enough heartening things in this world, but one occurred last weekend in Albany, and I was pleased to be present for it. That was a march down Central Avenue and subsequent meeting at the Masjid As-Salam storefront mosque to mark the eighth anniversary of the arrest of two Albany Muslims on phony-baloney charges of supporting terrorism.
The two — Yassin Aref, imam of the mosque, and Mohammed Hossain, owner of a nearby pizza shop — were convicted in federal court in 2006 and were each sentenced to 15 years in prison, sentences they are now serving.
It was part of a campaign by the FBI to ensnare Muslims who were not terrorists at all but who might be susceptible to being tricked into doing things that could be sold to a jury as support for terrorism.
It was one of the early such efforts, and, successful as it was, it led to many others, enabling the FBI to present itself as the vanguard in the war against terror. A display in the mosque showed the names of 150-some victims of this entrapment campaign, a campaign that still continues.
What was heartening was that people in Albany still care and still remember — not just the wives and children of these two men, but also a lot of non-Muslims, simply good-hearted people who over the past six years have pitched in to help support the families, help them pay the rent, help them visit their husbands and fathers in prison, help them navigate immigration labyrinths, help the kids get school supplies.
I would name these people, but there are too many of them, and I would hate to leave anyone out.
But one really struck me at this gathering, sentimentalist that I am, and that was a grizzled old customer by the name of Michael Rice who has a farm in Delmar. He told how after Yassin and Mohammed were sentenced he got the idea to plant a couple of fruit trees in their memory and tried but failed to get permission from the city of Albany to plant them somewhere on public property. So he planted them on his own farm, two peach trees.
At the mosque, in front of this gathering of friends and supporters, he presented the first ripe peach to Yassin’s youngest child, 6-year-old Dilnia.
“It’s got some insect problems,” he said, but there it was, a ripe peach, and Dilnia, beaming, took it.
I remember when she was not yet born, when Yassin, temporarily free on bail, stood on the sidewalk in front of this mosque and earnestly tried to explain to me, in halting English, why it was imperative that he pay the parking ticket I had just gotten. “It’s my religion,” he said. “I can’t let you suffer because of me.”
I felt like an old-timer, and I expect a lot of other people there did too, so much has happened since then, not least the ripening of peaches.
In the loop
You may recall that last week I mentioned the idea advanced by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy that the county sheriff, Dominic Dagostino, serve also as the city’s police chief, even though such a thing appears to be barred by state law.
I pointed out there was a Civil Service list from which a new chief is supposed to be hired, and the only candidates on the list are three of the four current assistant chiefs, which seems to limit the mayor’s options, and I also mentioned that McCarthy complained to me he had not had the opportunity to sign off on the request to the Civil Service Commission for a test that was limited to the assistant chiefs, a so-called promotional test.
He said he didn’t know who had requested the test in that manner, limiting it to insiders, but he expressed confidence I could find out, which indeed I did. The exam had been requested by soon-to-retire Chief Mark Chaires, which I duly reported. The implication — not mine but McCarthy’s — was that maybe the chief had done it that way to limit McCarthy’s options.
Well, at the encouragement of I won’t say who, I explored further, employing the Freedom of Information Law, and learned that McCarthy made a request of his own to the Civil Service Commission for an “open-competitive” exam as well as the promotional exam that Chaires had requested. That was last December, a month after Chaires’ request, when McCarthy was still acting mayor.
It came by email from the city’s personnel director, Kathleen Finch, and it said, “I have just spoken to Acting Mayor McCarthy and he respectfully requests that the Police Chief and Assistant Police Chief exams be held both promotionally and open competitively.”
County spokesman Joe McQueen tells me the open exam, which could have been taken by anyone, including Dominic Dagostino or me, for that matter, was duly posted, but no one signed up for it, so it was not given.
So it is not exactly accurate that McCarthy was circumvented, and I wish to dispel, cancel and negate any implication to the contrary.