ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Muhammad Khan says he isn’t sure if the man and woman approaching him were friend or foe, fellow mourners at the cemetery or folks who had read about his horrific experience in Wednesday’s column.
“I could see them looking at me, like they knew something,” Khan told me Friday. “And then they just came up to me and shook my hand.”
The couple smiled, said nothing and left.
That’s how it’s been since that column was published. And regardless of the couple’s motives, Khan says he has felt sustained by the healing kindness of strangers.
As Wednesday’s column explained, Khan was harassed and threatened by a young security guard as he cried and prayed at his son’s grave at Fairview Memorial Park in Southeast Albuquerque.
The guard – employed by Mesa Detection Agency – had approached Khan on the evenings of June 24 and 25 and ordered Khan out of the cemetery well before closing time as Khan was reciting prayers from the Quran. Khan said the guard appeared to mock his accent, shouted insults and obscenities, spit chewing tobacco and saliva on his car, stomped on his son’s grave, tried to slam his car door on his leg and blocked him from leaving the cemetery.
The incidents happened less than a week after Khan buried his son, Tehseen Khan, who took his life at age 24 with a shotgun blast after years of battling depression.
“Me and Tehseen was only each other’s family,” he said.
Khan’s story outraged and saddened many of you. What happened to him, many of you said, was another sign of the growing hatred and racial tension seething across the country.
“Prayers for Mr. Khan as he grieves,” one woman said. “Blatant overt racism is more openly expressed. These used to be isolated incidents, but with this federal administration evil seems to be encouraged. Praying that we would as a society move back toward healing, tolerance and acceptance.”
Several of you voiced concern for Khan’s safety and offered to accompany him to Fairview to stand watch as he prays.
“I’ve counted and I think we have enough at this point that we could supply him with protective companionship with no one having to do more than two days a month,” said one woman who tallied the offers on just one Facebook post – that’s not counting offers that came in from emails, calls and the co-founder of Rio Grande Indivisible.
Many of you knew the singular pain of losing a child to suicide and offered to help Khan through his grief.
Nearly all of you were furious at the security guard, demanding he be fired; furious at Mesa Detection Agency, which employs the guard and is contracted to provide security at the cemetery; furious at Fairview, for contracting with Mesa.
“Why don’t they fire that security guard? This is a bullying!” one woman said.
So, some updates.
Khan just received a copy of the report he filed with the Albuquerque Police Department, though it appears criminal action will not come expeditiously, if at all. Khan has now been in touch with the Mayor’s Office to see what can be done to move the process along.
Khan said he planned to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union, but on Wednesday Leon Howard, legal director of the ACLU of New Mexico, reached out to him. The two plan to meet next week.
As for the security guard, it is still not clear whether he remains at Mesa – or whether Mesa remains at Fairview.
In emails obtained by the Journal, Mesa owner Troy Grimes told Fairview management that the guard “will no longer be permitted to set foot on your property again and will no longer provide any services at your cemetery.”
He did not say whether the guard was fired.
Grimes said security guards are now being instructed not to interrupt any ceremonies, prayers or gatherings, nor are they to demand a visitor leave.
“All conversations with anyone we encounter is to be polite, courteous and professional,” Grimes said in the email.
But Mesa’s new policies may be too little too late. Khan said Mark Shalz, vice president of operations for New Mexico for the Signature Group, the company that owns Fairview, told him in a phone call this week that the contract with Mesa and Fairview is being terminated.
Calls to Shalz were not returned.
Mesa issued a tersely worded statement in an email: “We take these allegations seriously but will not comment further.”
As for Khan, he continues to grieve the loss of his son and the shock of what he experienced in the cemetery. He is still fearful that the security guard will return, whether or not in uniform.
But he is also grateful for the kindness of strangers, whose sentiments far outweigh those of darker souls.
“I am overwhelmed at the support and love that you people are providing me at this difficult time in my life,” he said. “I found out that there are more good people than evil, that there are more people who love than hate. I have not given up on this world.”
Neither should we.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.