St. Paul will soon upgrade security for local houses of worship after vandals struck a Twin Cities mosque for the sixth time this year, setting Minnesota's Muslim community on edge.
The City Council on Wednesday approved an emergency appropriation of $30,000 in federal American Rescue Plan dollars toward "Project PEACE — Technology and Equipment as a Response to Violence."
The city defines an emergency that requires an appropriation as an "unforeseen situation affecting life, health, property, or the public peace or welfare that requires immediate council action." Although Project PEACE normally focuses on gun violence, the money is being moved to specific funds for the initiative to buy audio and video equipment for many houses of worship.
Mayor Melvin Carter signed the resolution Thursday.
"This is an emergency action we're taking to improve public safety in critical community spaces, like our places of worship," Carter said in a statement. "If you show up with the intent to do harm, know that you're going to be on camera."
The move comes just more than a week after a fire set inside the Tawhid Islamic Center of Minnesota in St. Paul caused more than $250,000 in damage. Of the six Minnesota mosques vandalized in recent months, two were in St. Paul.
Carter said at the time that the city would be among the first to invest in placing security cameras at every mosque.
Brooke Blakey, director for Office of Neighborhood Safety which manages Project PEACE, presented the resolution asking for the aid at Wednesday's City Council meeting. Blakey told council members that the money was needed in response to violence in recent weeks that has affected mosques and other community institutions.
"We will be back in front of this council later next month to really talk about the expansion of the program and a larger ask for enhancements throughout the community," Blakey said. "The oversight will come from [Blakey's agency] with help from the St. Paul Police Department."
Both agencies will identify groups that are eligible for funds through a community violence intervention program model called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). The program model, which officials say has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice, evaluates how properties' design deters crime. Groups that fall short of the model's recommendations will be provided some of the $30,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to improve their security.
Police arrested 42-year-old Said Murekezi the day after the fire at the Tawhid Islamic Center on suspicion of setting the blaze. He was charged with second-degree arson, second-degree burglary and possession of methamphetamine.
Murekezi reportedly told investigators that what he did was fun — and that he started the blaze to protest Muslims and Americans who must sleep outside in the cold.
In a separate case, Jackie Rahm Little, 36, was charged this month with a federal hate crime on suspicion of intentionally damaging religious property.
Little is accused of setting separate fires on April 23 and 24 at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center and Masjid Al Rahma mosque in Minneapolis.