Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Islam on Trial (Professor Wadie Said)

The Boston Review featured a series of articles by legal scholars and lawyers on the legal, social, and political implications of the rise in Islamophobia in the United States.  Over the next few weeks, we will highlight the essays within this thought provoking and timely series.

Professor Wadie Said addressed the reality that nearly all terrorism prosecutions since 9/11 have involved individuals who do not represent a genuine threat of violence.

"In May 2016 Sajmir Alimehmeti was arrested in the Bronx and charged with providing material support to the Islamic State, along with one count of passport fraud. The authorities began their investigation of him shortly after he was denied entry to Britain on two occasions in 2014. On the second trip, British authorities searched his phone and computer to discover multiple images of the Islamic State and various attacks it had carried out. Once back in the United States, three undercover agents approached Alimehmeti, soliciting his help in leaving the United States to join the Islamic State in Syria. In the roughly nine-month period between his being approached by the agents and his arrest, Alimehmeti made numerous statements indicating his support for the terrorist group. But where does the U.S. government draw the line drawn between espousing hateful, yet legal, views and actually acting on them? And, subsequently, how do they establish legal culpability before an act of terror has been committed? 

Shortly after 9/11, then–Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a new plan for investigating and prosecuting suspected terrorists. The Department of Justice would focus on stopping terror plots before they came to fruition, instead of merely prosecuting individuals for acts of violence already committed. This shift seemed both logical and necessary. And the fear and confusion associated with acts of terror offered a compelling incentive for the government to seek to prevent them, not just punish their perpetrators after the fact.

To read the full article, click here.





March 21, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Presumed Innocence of Racial Vigilantes

The Presumed Innocence of Racial Vigilantes

Jamie Longazel, Nikita Srivastava, and Ruth Thompson-Miller

The incident that recently sparked protests in Anaheim, California allegedly began when Kevin Ferguson, an off-duty Los Angeles police officer, confronted a young girl about cutting through his lawn on her way home from school. According to a witness, a 13-year-old Chicano boy stood up for his friend, telling the man “I’m going to sue you.” The man apparently misheard him, thinking he said, “I’m going to shoot you.”

Onlookers filmed the entire encounter, which appears to show the man grabbing the young boy by his sweatshirt and dragging him across a lawn. The boy remained in the man’s grasp for several minutes. On a few occasions, the boy’s friends attempted to free him by shoving the man. One such shove propelled him, with the boy still firmly in his grasp, over a shrub. When he got back on his feet, it appears as though Ferguson pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired a shot. This sent the relatively large group of youth who had gathered fleeing in fright.

While we can certainly categorize this case as yet another instance of police violence captured on video, the details evoke memories of one incident in particular: the murder of Trayvon Martin.

George Zimmerman killed the seventeen-year-old Martin, who was Black, almost exactly five years prior, setting off protests and a national conversation about race and police / vigilante violence that remains robust. Thankfully, the 13-year-old boy in Anaheim escaped unharmed. Yet, like Martin, he found himself accosted by a grown man with a quasi-judicial, vigilante orientation after engaging in the otherwise routine act of walking home from school.

We have been analyzing the closing argument that George Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, delivered to the jury leading up to his acquittal, and our findings shed light on the racist ideology underlying cases like this.

Attention to deeply-rooted racism, we contend, helps explain both why this happens and why convictions are so elusive when it does. (Although Ferguson’s actions are currently under investigation, it is notable that police took only the boy and one of his peers into custody following the incident; and as of this writing, Ferguson still has his job and is not facing charges).

Sociologist Joe Feagin’s concept of the white racial frame captures what we mean by deeply-rooted racism. Rather than surface-level discussions of things like prejudice, bias, or stereotyping, Feagin suggests that in order to understand the constant recurrence of racist events, we must view racism as a systemic problem.

One component of the white racial frame is its depiction of people of color as subhuman and dangerously animalistic. According to Feagin, “among the outrageous stereotypes and images common in the white racial frame today is the old view of black Americans as being linked to apes and monkeys… black Americans are still often unconsciously or half-consciously, [viewed] by whites as animal-like and not fully human” (pg. 102).

He references numerous examples throughout U.S. history where whites frame people of color as “savages” and “treacherous.” “[In the] eighteenth century,” Feagin writes, “colonists framed Indians as animals—’beasts of prey’... or as ‘animals vulgarly called Indians’” (p. 61).

Applied here, the white racial frame depicts the very existence of young bodies of color as threatening. When addressing the jury in Florida v. George Zimmerman, O’Mara linked Martin to the wider pattern of black criminality that the white racial frame assumes is ever-present, pointing out that Martin “just so happened to match the description of the most wanted criminals” in an area where people convicted of burglary “happened to be black.”

Elsewhere in his closing statement, O’Mara uses animalistic imagery to describe Martin, making Zimmerman, by contrast, appear desperate for safety, and, indeed, heroic given that he managed to prevail. He described Martin’s activity the evening of his death using phrases like “lurking” and “lying.” His argument concludes even more callously, with a rejection of the notion that Martin was an innocent youth and an insistence on his savage dangerousness. “How many times was it said Trayvon Martin was not armed,” O’Mara rhetorically asked, as he picked up a block of cement and carried it in front of the jury...

That’s cement. That is sidewalk, and that is not an unarmed teenager with nothing but Skittles trying to get home… [Martin] used the availability of dangerous items from his fists to the concrete to cause great bodily injury. Not just there for self-defense, but there to cause great bodily injury to George Zimmerman… Any suggestion by the state... that [cement] cannot cause great bodily injury is disgusting.

In contrast, this framing depicts whites as the potential victims of such perceived threats, and, importantly, as not as liable for any subsequent violence they inflict when they “fend them off.”

O’Mara described Zimmerman as a noble man who simply wanted to do good for his community. Zimmerman, he said, “did want to be a cop. He also wanted to be a prosecutor. He wanted to be a lawyer. And he wanted to continue his education and he wanted to help his community… yes, he wanted to be involved.”

Notice how this frame makes Zimmerman’s use of a firearm to kill Trayvon Martin appear justified, in sharp contrast to the savagery of the teenager’s reliance on “dangerous items… to cause great bodily injury.” “In fact, George Zimmerman was armed with a firearm,” O’Mara admitted, “We know he had the right to have it.” In this telling, Zimmerman was not an adult who murdered a child, he seems to imply, but rather someone bravely protecting his neighborhood from predators.

Part of what makes this frame so powerful is that it is so entrenched in our culture, representing far more than an instance of bias mistakenly rising to the surface. The white racial frame is a “vantage point,” with its assumptions widely accepted as “common sense.” Accordingly, it would not be a stretch to assume that O’Mara’s presentation influenced the jury – comprised of all white women – who found Zimmerman not guilty.

We still do not know all the details surrounding the Anaheim case, but from the video that has been circulating, there appear to be several graphic and disturbing similarities. Like Zimmerman, the unnamed cop was extra-judicially protecting “white space” – his neighborhood / property.

Both perpetrators seemingly viewed the boys as predators with little, if any, evidence to validate their fears. Granted, we don’t know what the LAPD officer actually heard and there is no use speculating on his motives, but we can nevertheless ask whether he would have so easily mistaken “sue” for “shoot” had the “intruder” not been a young person of color.

Ferguson’s particular actions are also telling: He, in effect, traps the boy as if he were an unwanted rodent and then, in an apparent display of dominance, fires his gun to scare off the boy’s peers. (“My son shot his gun because they’ve got about 15 people,” the officer’s father, who arrived on the scene and called 911, can be heard saying on the video).

These cases are even more egregious when we consider that these are grown men involved in physical altercations with children. (Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, who police shot and killed in Cleveland, also comes to mind here.) “I’m only like 13,” the Anaheim boy says at one point in the video, pleading for mercy. The bag of Skittles Martin was carrying at the time of his death likewise became a powerful reminder that he was just a kid.

Yet with racism so deeply rooted, their youth offers no protection from racialized vigilantism. And the legal system fails to hold such men accountable again and again. (Absent charge, the LA Times reports that the boy’s family has filed a civil suit, alleging “that Officer Kevin Ferguson violated the boy’s civil rights and caused the plaintiff emotional distress. It also claims that Ferguson assaulted and falsely imprisoned the boy.”)

Cases such as these demonstrate that policy proposals like increased training for police officers or requirements that officers wear body cameras are insufficient solutions. What we really need is the courage to admit that the problem runs far deeper than that. There are, and long have been, entitled white men all over the country – police officers and otherwise – who see it as within their purview, if not as their obligation, to “protect” themselves and their communities from threats that exist only in their minds. Meanwhile, boys of color struggle to get home from school or to go out for a snack without putting their lives on the line.

Jamie Longazel is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and a Human Rights Center Research Associate at the University of Dayton and the author of Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Nikita Srivastava is a law student at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. She has Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice Studies and Political Science from the University of Dayton, and is currently a Fellow at the Ohio Innocence Project.

Ruth Thompson-Miller is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Dayton and the co-author (with Joe Feagin and Leslie Picca) of Jim Crow’s Legacy: The Lasting Impact of Segregation.

March 14, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 10, 2017

“That’s what America is about”: Misrepresenting White Supremacy

President Donald Trump and senior members of the Trump administration have recently mischaracterized basic points of American racial history. While Trump supporters defend these remarks as innocent, these “missteps” show a willful ignorance about American white supremacy aimed at generating a post-racial ideology of success and a complacency about our challenges connected to the legacy of slavery.

In comments to his department, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson compared the experience of slaves in the Transatlantic Slave Trade with the experience of willing migrants to to the United States. According to the Washington Post, Carson said:

"That's what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less,” said Carson, speaking extemporaneously as he paced the room with a microphone. “But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land."

In comparing slaves to immigrants, Carson equated the two as dreamers, but conveniently ignored the Transatlantic Slave Trade’s subordination of the enslaved. Yet, as the Post reported, attendees to Secretary Carson’s remarks did not believe he was making any untoward comments. Carson himself denied any intention of denying the realities of slavery. And in defense of the comparison between slavery and immigration, Eugene Volokh went so far as to quote a number of legal scholars as having compared chattel slavery and voluntary immigration. Conservative critics have even called those objecting to Carson’s comments “hypocritical” and argued that President Obama made a similar comparison.

But this mischaracterizing doesn’t stop with Secretary Carson. Earlier this year, President Trump commented that Frederick Douglass was someone “who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more,” implying that he wasn’t acquainted with the nineteenth century anti-slavery icon. And Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) “pioneers” of “school choice” while ignoring the fact that HBCUs were created because segregation forbad black students from attending white colleges and universities. Like Carson, DeVos’s comments have been pilloried and defended as innocent misstatements.

The defenses of “lack of evil intent” and “hey look, liberals (or academics) do it too” completely miss the point. These comments by Trump, DeVos, and Carson, read against the rhetoric and agenda of the administration, come off as tone-deaf about the history of the striving for racial equality and equal opportunity in the United States.

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March 10, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Islam on Trial (Amna Akbar and Jeanne Theoharis)

Last week, the Boston Review featured a series of articles by legal scholars and lawyers on the legal, social, and political implications of the rise in Islamophobia in the United States.  Over the next few weeks, we will highlight the essays within this thought provoking and timely series.

Amna Akbar and Jeanne Theoharis began the discussion forum with the following:

"In his inaugural address, Donald Trump vowed to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism . . . completely from the face of the earth.” This pledge—not the first of its kind from an American president—is not as anodyne as it may first seem. It mobilizes a longstanding dichotomy between acceptable and radical Islam, between good and bad Muslims. For too long we have accepted our government’s ability to discern the difference. We have acquiesced to a wide-ranging set of government policies toward Muslims in the United States and around the world to root out the “dangerous ones.” And we have trusted that all of this is necessary for our collective good.

Meanwhile the government has enacted an interlocking system of domestic and foreign policies that reflect, codify, and reenact suspicion of Muslims globally: wars and targeted assassinations named and unnamed; deportations, prosecutions, and policing; a regime of surveillance that goes from sea to shining sea and then wraps around the rest of the world; Countering Violent Extremism programs aimed at shaping the very ideas that Muslim communities discuss and debate, effectively marking certain forms of religious practice or critique of U.S. policies as criminally dissident. The cost of silence—of our failure to scrutinize, question, or resist—is now clear. It is not too late to wake up, but it will take far more than resisting Trump’s Muslim ban." 

To read the full article, click here.



March 7, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)