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In Chicago, Muslim and gay rights leaders take on Trump

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CHICAGO: The leaders of Muslim and gay rights groups in Chicago, one of America’s biggest cities, on Monday joined forces to slam Donald Trump in the wake of the Orlando massacre, saying now was not a time for divisions.

On June 12, 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded in the shooting at a gay nightclub in the central Florida city. The shooter Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old Muslim American of Afghan descent, was killed in a shootout with police.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has since renewed calls for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and controversially suggested on Sunday that profiling of Muslims was not off the table.

In Chicago, which has both a large Muslim population and a vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, leaders said Trump’s comment were divisive and unproductive.

“We’re scared, because it starts rhetorically, and then more people accept it if you don’t nip it in the bud,” Ahmed Rehab, the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told AFP.

“If common sense doesn’t step in right now, people are capable of mass hysteria, and he is fanning those flames,” he said, speaking of Trump.

Rehab said there was fear in Chicago’s Muslim community, one of the largest in the United States, that they could potentially become targets of hate crimes.

In the past week, there have been two threats emailed and phoned into area mosques, he said.

“There is never a time to divide Americans, and of course that is especially true at a time of deep national pain,” James Bennett of Lambda Legal, an LGBT group, told a press conference.

Rehab told reporters that his group and Lambda Legal planned to meet every two weeks with the goal of making “clear statements on a mutual agenda of equal civil rights of all people regardless of their background.”

Bennett chimed in: “I would encourage people to watch Chicago’s example.”

Sending a message

Illinois is home to an estimated 400,000 Muslims and 370,000 LGBT people, most of them located in the greater Chicago area, which has a population of about 5.2 million people.

“We’re trying to send a message that this is not the time to try to pit communities against each other,” said Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, a gay rights group.

“Any public official or media personality who says such things that would not only suggest divides, but suggest putting in place actual divides, is deeply concerning,” Johnson told AFP.

On Sunday, Trump said profiling of Muslims, and racial profiling more generally, was “not the worst thing to do.”

“I hate the concept of profiling. But we have to use common sense. We’re not using common sense,” Trump said.

African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims and other minorities in the United States have complained bitterly for decades about the practice in which police use a person’s race, religion, national origin or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting them of committing a crime.

“He questions Muslims’ assimilation into America. I question his assimilation into our American values,” Rehab said.

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