The city's $4.6 million contract with the Nation of Islam Security Agency is morally indefensible. I don't say this because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development claims that the pact violates federal rules.
Nor do I say it because Congress is examining such contracts nationwide. Or because federal auditors found last year that NOI Security had employed 29 guards who had been convicted of felonies. Or because Minister Louis Farrakhan's lavish lifestyle is under scrutiny.
The contract is indefensible because NOI Security springs from a denomination whose leaders make anti-Semitic pronouncements.
In writings and speeches, Nation of Islam officials insist that there is a Jewish conspiracy to control the black community, manipulate black leaders and destroy black institutions. Minister Farrakhan and other leaders rant about a Jewish cabal aimed at controlling the U.S. government, the media and the international banking system.
And such sentiments clearly are not confined to the Nation of Islam's leaders. Many members of the Muslim denomination defend their leaders by maintaining that those statements are not anti-Semitic attacks but actual historical truths.
Last month, HUD officials told a congressional subcommittee there is no evidence that the Nation of Islam uses its security agencies to recruit members or spread its religious beliefs, which would be clear violations of federal regulations.
But HUD missed the point: The Nation of Islam need not use its security company to proselytize; just by hiring it, the city appears to endorse such beliefs -- or minimize them, which is just as bad.
This must not be. I applauded Baltimore's efforts to divest itself from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. We are just as obligated to distance ourselves from the Nation of Islam so long as its leaders demonize the Jewish community.
Last May, NOI Security beat out nine other companies to provide security at 16 public high-rise apartment buildings in Baltimore, even though it was the highest bidder. The low bidder, Wells Fargo Guard Services, offered to do the job for about $1.1 million less and complained to HUD that NOI Security had gotten the contract unfairly.
City officials say NOI Security won the contract because its patrol officers are held in high esteem by residents of public housing communities here and nationwide. And the group has been credited with bringing about a dramatic decrease in crime in those communities.
NOI officers do seem to have made a good impression. Last weekend I spoke with more than a dozen residents at Flag House Courts in East Baltimore, one of the city's public high rises patrolled by NOI Security. Residents there describe NOI officers as well-spoken, intelligent and always courteous and respectful. Residents also like the fact that NOI officers do not carry weapons. And residents said they felt much safer with NOI Security patrolling their buildings than with members of other security agencies or even city police officers.
No one I met volunteered support for the anti-Semitic sentiments attributed to Nation of Islam leaders. But when I raised the topic, every resident I spoke with endorsed those beliefs. Several persons said they applauded Minister Farrakhan for "daring to take on the Jewish community." And several said they considered NOI security officers role models for children.
I doubt that the city's contract with NOI Security created anti-Semitism at Flag House. But doesn't the contract give credibility to the Nation of Islam and, by extension, to the opinions of NOI leaders?
It is ironic that the Nation of Islam has provided the city with a successful model for reducing crime in even the most troubled neighborhoods. Its security agencies here and nationwide act as a part of the communities they patrol, rather than as an occupying army. NOI Security officers carry themselves with dignity and treat residents as equals.
City officials should require all security agencies seeking contracts to meet this standard -- even if doing so costs taxpayers an extra $1 million or so. NOI Security has demonstrated that crime can be reduced. Now let's prove we can do so without seeming to endorse hatred.