The New York Police Department announced Monday that Oscar Morel was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon for the killing of a Muslim imam and his assistant in Ozone Park, Queens, the New York Times reported.
Morel allegedly shot imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and 64-year-old Thara Uddin execution style when they were walking home from the mosque Saturday after morning prayers.
The NYPD initially announced it would not be investigating the killings as a hate crime, but the Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told the New York Times a hate crime investigation is not "off the table."
Some in the New York Muslim community have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the NYPD's protocol for investigating racialized crimes.
Mohammad Khan, a campaign manager for grassroots movement MPower Change, told Mic he was frustrated by the NYPD's initial refusal to investigate these killings as a hate crime. He also said the NYPD's announcements cause unwarranted trauma and proved to the Muslim community that the law enforcement system is not designed to protect them.
"The NYPD's initial statement that seemed to dismiss bias as a motive for the murders left many members of the Queens and broader New York Muslim communities upset and disheartened," Khan said. "While we recognize that the department has an investigation process, speaking about the shootings without acknowledging the context of rising anti-Muslim attacks caused unnecessary confusion and led some to believe that the Department was not considering the possibility of the incident as a hate crime."
After immediate news of the killing, local Muslim community members said this is the result of the unhinged anti-Muslim rhetoric used by Donald Trump and similar Republican lawmakers.
The shooting "is not what America is about," said Khairul Islam, a 33-year-old worshiper at the mosque where imam Akonjee gave sermons, according to the New York Daily News. "We blame Donald Trump for this. Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia."
A study from Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding published in May showed that anti-Muslim violent attacks tripled in the United States after Trump announced he would potentially shut down of all mosques in the United States. When Trump announced a "total and complete shutdown" of all Muslims entering this country, the study reported there were 53 anti-Muslim incidents in the month of December alone.
Two months ago, a Muslim man in Queens was beaten nearly to death by non-Muslim teens after leaving for morning prayers at a neighborhood mosques. He suffered through multiple rib and face fractures, a concussion and multiple lacerations and bruises.
Khan said the outrage and frustration from the community is a result of rampant Islamophobia permeating the political climate.
"The reaction of Ozone Park residents shows how traumatized Muslim communities are in today's Islamophobic atmosphere," Khan said.