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Indians and Pakistanis rally together in Houston

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    Indians and Pakistanis rally together in Houston

    For once the Indians and Pakistanis have come together in Houston.

    Indians and Pakistanis rally together
    in Houston

    More police patrols, safer stores urged

    Members of Houston's Indian, Pakistani and Lebanese communities gathered downtown Wednesday to remember five recently slain convenience store clerks, support their families and call for an end to such crimes.

    About 1,000 people honored Indian couple Achamma Mathai and wife Thankachan who were owners of Conoco gas station. Also honored were clerks Khalid Masroor, Syed Mehdi and Jamal Labdi.

    The two-hour service in Tranquillity Park in downtown Houston included prayers, calls for healing, thanks to the police for their quick arrests of suspects in the three holdups, and speeches from Indian and Pakistani community leaders and elected officials.

    Convenience store owner Mamun Labdi, cousin of Jamal Labdi, was moved by the outpouring of support from the community, Mayor Lee Brown, City Councilman Gordon Quan and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

    "You have no idea how much this helps me, my family and the families of the other victims," Labdi said, clasping hands with a mourner.

    "Unfortunately, it took the death of five people for us to come together," Labdi said.

    Men, women and children wore black ribbons around their arms, handed out by a woman who identified herself as a friend of the Mathai family.

    India Culture Center (ICC), The Islamic Society of Houston, Pakistani Association of Greater Houston (PAGH), and Malayalee Association of Greater Houston hung banners across the balcony, where speakers called for safer stores and more police patrols.

    The mood was solemn as several speakers touched on the deaths of the clerks and the two firefighters killed battling a fire last week. Some called for gun control, surveillance cameras in all stores and more security.

    Mourners carried signs reading "No Progress Without Safety," "Together We Can Make a Difference" and "We are Part of America."

    "I am dismayed that hard-working citizens are put at risk just for doing their jobs," Brown said. "It is my prayer that we can learn from these tragedies ... learn to come together to keep the community safe."

    Brown assured mourners that the city plans to add more crime-prevention programs and increase police presence around convenience stores. He said a South Asian-American police officer has been assigned to serve as a liaison to the community in the Harwin area.

    "Based upon things we know in law enforcement, prevention is key," Brown told reporters later, after Wednesday's City Council meeting.

    "There are simple things we can do. For example, we will increase patrols around those stores. Equally important, the store owners themselves can do certain things. For example, making sure that there are not posters or display signs in their front windows so when someone drives by they can see what's going on and that everything is visible."

    At the rally, Jackson Lee said convenience stores are cultural and neighborhood treasures, places where people come to meet, not just to buy things.

    "The last few days have been traumatic ones for the entire Houston community," said Masrur Javed Khan, president of the Pakistan Association of Greater Houston.

    He mentioned the firefighters, and then named the store clerks "lost to senseless violence."

    "We condemn these murders ... every life is precious," Khan said, quoting passages from the Koran about the sanctity of life.

    "We cannot replace your dear, departed ones," he told the victims' families, but the South Asian community will make sure that they live with dignity and honor.

    Rally organizers said they had commitments from 2,000 Indian and Pakistani businesses to close their doors from noon until 2 p.m. Wednesday, but there was no way to confirm the number who did.

    Hasan Anwar closed his store from 5 a.m. to midnight Tuesday in a show of respect and to show that the South Asian-American community has power.

    "You can make money tomorrow," he said, holding a sign that read "A Prosperous Houston Needs Safe Businesses."

    "Work is not a crime," Anwar said. "We don't deserve to die for working."