The University of Michigan Department of Public Safety and Security was called to downtown Ann Arbor after an unidentified man carrying an Islamic State flag and dressed in a thawb, a traditional Arab garment for men, attracted the attention of pedestrians Sunday evening on the corner of North University Avenue and State Street.
The man was also carrying a fake machine gun on his back and wearing a “Sharia for Ann Arbor” T-shirt, according to Skyline High School senior Mustafa Syed, who said he was approached by the man.
“It seemed he was trying to make a statement how Muslims are terrorists,” he said. “From my understanding, he was not Muslim. He was trying to perceive Muslims as terrorists because another gentleman said ‘I am Muslim, you guys are giving a bad name to Islam.’ And then he said, ‘Then why aren’t you out here proving Muslims are terrorists?’ ”
More than five police cars were parked on State Street during the incident. After they talked to the man for about 10 minutes, he was put in the back of a police car.
However, both the Ann Arbor Police Department and DPSS told The Michigan Daily that the man was not considered a serious threat.
An AAPD representative said the man was placed in the back of the police car only so that he could be taken back to his car to put the fake gun away.
“He was trying to spark conversation about terrorism,” the AAPD representative said, noting police asked him to put the gun away. “(They said), ‘Better put (the gun) away, not a good idea.’ He complied. He was compliant.”
University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown said the man who was arrested is not being considered a serious threat, adding she believed the proximity to Halloween was a factor in the incident.
“It is a subject dressed in a costume,” she said. “The gun is a toy.”
Rackham student Kris Harmon, who witnessed the incident, said two cops drove by him when he was walking on the sidewalk. Within 30 seconds, he said, six more were surrounding the area.
“He just stood at the edge of the street and stared off,” Harmon said. “It was a question of a costume but then it escalated. He stopped and then just stood at the street and just stared off. And I thought ‘What is he doing?’ ”
He said the police had approached the man with caution at first, but the situation seemed more relaxed a few minutes in.
Syed said the man told him terrorism is what Muslims believe in, including Muslims in Ann Arbor.
“That really upset me that people out here would say that,” he said.
Matthew Stone, a post-doctoral researcher at the University who also witnessed the incident, said he talked to the man in the ISIS costume, telling him he had a right to his opinion. The man replied that Stone is a “bleeding heart liberal” who “shouldn’t support him.”
“He was not on his way to a party to have a good time,” Stone said.
Syed agreed with Stone, saying the man was serious about his display.
“When I confronted him, he said he was trying to prove a point,” he said. “He was definitely a conservative trying to prove a point.”