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MAY 2015 - White House
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The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

By Susan DeWitt

Earlier this year I had the honor of traveling with a delegation from Los Angeles to participate in a “White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.”  Los Angeles was one of three cities selected by the White House to attend the Summit.  The team from Los Angeles included representatives from the local community, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Attorney’s Office. 

Local governments and communities around the United States have been working to develop prevention frameworks that address and prevent violent extremism in their local communities.  Three cities -- Los Angeles, Greater Boston and the Twin Cities -- with the leadership of representatives from the Federal Government have worked to develop model programs to foster partnerships between local governments, law enforcement, mayor’s offices, the private sector, local service providers, academia, and many others who can help prevent violent extremism.  These efforts are focused on expanding support to local stakeholders and practitioners who are on the ground serving their communities.  In Los Angeles the emphasis is to build the strength of local communities with the premise that well-informed and well-equipped families, communities, and local institutions represent the best defense against violent extremist ideologies. 

On February 17, 2015 the Los Angeles delegation – together with delegates from Boston and Minnesota – met with Vice President Biden to discuss efforts in our respective cities and to share best practices and lessons learned in addressing the growing problem of violent extremism.  On February 18, 2015, members from each of the three cities presented their ideas during the first day of the full White House Summit.   The Summit participants included international leaders, academics, and both private and public partners, all of whom shared their experiences and ideas on preventing violent extremism. 

The White House Summit concluded with a speech by President Obama on the importance of empowering local communities – particularly youth and women.  In a February 17, 2015, editorial in the Los Angeles Times, the President described the Summit:

This week, we'll take an important step forward as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism.  Our focus will be on empowering local communities.

            . . . .

We know from experience that the best way to protect people, especially young people, from falling into the grip of violent extremists is the support of their family, friends, teachers and faith leaders. At this week's summit, community leaders from Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Boston will highlight innovative partnerships in their cities that are helping empower communities to protect their loved ones from extremist ideologies.

           . . . .

Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.

            . . . .

Our campaign to prevent people around the world from being radicalized to violence is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds. With this week's summit, we'll show once more that — unlike terrorists who only offer misery and death — it is our free societies and diverse communities that offer the true path to opportunity, justice and dignity.

 

One of the highlights of the White House Summit was the important contributions made by the women in the Los Angeles delegation, including:

·         Joumana Silyan-Saba, City of Los Angeles, Human Relations Commission (who helped present the Los Angeles model to the Vice President);

·         Aziza Hasan, the Executive Director of NewGround: Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change (a panelist on an interfaith session at the Summit);

·         Anila Ali, President of the American Muslim Women’s Empowerment Counsel (who helped present the Los Angeles model);

·         Maria Khani, Chair of the Women Committee, The Islamic Institute of Orange County; and

·         Stephanie Yonekura, Acting United States Attorney (who introduced the Los Angeles delegation and the Los Angeles model). 

For me, this message from one of the women participants in the White House Summit perfectly captured why this entire effort was so memorable and worthwhile:

Dear Team LA,

As I am getting back to reality, I am now truly realizing the magnitude of the honor that was bestowed upon me. A Muslim woman, discriminated, threatened and targeted for being who she is most of her life, had the privilege of being a partner with the finest of officers serving our nation and community members and partners reflecting the best of the Los Angeles community.  I thank you all for this amazing, historic movement to include Muslim women and make them a part of the dialogue and treating them like equals. Your advocacy for us is truly appreciated.

God Bless America and THANK YOU!

As a member of the Interagency Coordination Group that helped develop the Los Angeles model, I am proud to have had the opportunity to support these efforts and these women and to be a part of Team LA.  Although the issues discussed at the White House Summit are complex and have no easy answers, being able to bring together this diverse and committed group of individuals to discuss and share ideas was an historic and important step forward. 

For more information on the Los Angeles Model, I invite you to view a short film about the efforts in Los Angeles that can be found at: 

http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Recent/index.html

Please also feel free to contact me directly at the United States Attorney’s Office with any questions. 


 

Susan J. De Witt is co-chair of WLALA's Awards and Recognitions Committee and is Assistant United States Attorney, Special Counsel to the United States Attorney.




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