He wears a uniform and drives a car that has traditionally evoked fear and anger in Anaheim’s Arab American community. But the moment Omar Adham’s black and white cruiser pulls into a strip mall on Brookhurst Street, it’s clear that that sentiment is melting in Little Arabia.

“How you doing, Omar?” one Palestinian restaurant owner shouts. “Great to see you,” says another man as he shakes Adham’s hand between puffs on a cigarette.

As Adham sits at a table outside a Middle Eastern restaurant and blends seamlessly into a conversation with three elderly men, it is plain to see why some in this closely knit neighborhood have begun calling him “the mayor” of Little Arabia.

For some in the ethnic community, it’s difficult to picture an Anaheim cop wandering into a smoke shop, hookah cafe or bakery, sipping tea and munching baklava with business owners.

Muhammad Alam, owner of Tripoli Bakery, remembers a vastly different scene a few years ago, when police practically used the Middle Eastern commercial strip malls as their territory.

“They’d patrol undercover on an hourly basis,” Alam said. “The area was totally chaos. There was a lot of harassment and misunderstanding of our culture by police. It was a crazy time. The police had to do anything to protect the country, but some of the police officers went overboard.”

In the post-9/11 era, harassment complaints regularly came into Anaheim City Hall, and the Council on American Islamic Relations reported a record number of hate incidents and examples of civil rights discrimination in Southern California.


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