During the late ’90s the news was full of reports of aggressive policing and racial profiling. This developed from the political establishment’s turn toward a tough “law and order” stance against crime. That policy was developed to facilitate the gentrification of mainly African American and Latino neighborhoods in order to increase the tax base of cities.
Racial profiling is about controlling and harassing working class communities and communities of color, particularly young African American and Latino men. Arrests often result from non-violent or 3nuisance2 violations based on stereotypes of who is likely to be a “criminal” – including their racial and ethnic background, style of clothes, and neighborhood. The high-profile police killings of African immigrant Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond and many others brought the issue of racial profiling and police brutality national and international attention.
Racial Profiling Since 9/11
Since 9/11, racial profiling has been focused on Arab Americans, Muslims, and immigrants. Over 1,200 people – the vast majority Middle Eastern and South Asian – were detained without any formal charges, and many are still in detention a year later. Only Zacarias Moussaoui, arrested before 9/11, has been charged as the alleged 20th hijacker.
An August 2002 report from Human Rights Watch confirmed the abuse and violation of the detainees’ rights by the Justice Department. Take the case of Palestinian activist Jaoudat Abouazza, who has been held in custody since his May 30th arrest in Cambridge, Massachusetts on a minor traffic violation. He was not charged with any crime or read his rights by the arresting officers. He was subsequently interrogated by the FBI for suspicion of being a “terrorist,” the evidence being flyers found in his car for a permitted rally at the June 9th Israel Independence day festival in Boston. Since his arrest he has been tortured, had his teeth pulled out, thrown into solitary confinement, and denied proper counsel.
There has been a terrible wave of racist violence and job firings directed against Arabs. “The Justice Department reported a surge in hate incidents following the terrorist attacks, and the DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations alone has tallied over 1,700 as of February.” (Village Voice, 8/6/02)
The enactment of the Patriot Act and Bush’s Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) is a major assault on our democratic rights. The Patriot Act has given the FBI and other law enforcement agencies the power to search people’s homes, financial records, and emails and to indefinitely detain “suspected terrorists.” The TIPS program being introduced in 10 cities goes even further by trying to recruit truck drivers, letter carriers, and computer and telephone repair workers to report “suspicious” behavior that could be classified as related to terrorist activities.
The Teamsters union has scandalously given their support to TIPS in the hope that in return the government will end the monitoring of the union. The long-standing credo of the labor movement, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” must be put into action. TIPS will be used to harass union militants and silence political opposition to the “War on Terrorism” and its extension to Iraq and should be completely opposed by unions.
The Patriot Act and TIPS continue the tradition of US governmental repression such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s against leftists, and the COINTELPRO program of the 1960s directed particularly against black radicals.
People urgently need to speak out against these policies through meetings and forums and set up defense committees in communities where Arab Americans and others are the victims of racist attacks. The movement against racial profiling pre-9/11 must be linked to what is happening now. Today’s targets are Arab Americans, but tomorrow they will be labor, anti-globalization and socialist activists, as well as ordinary citizens. Through the united struggle of workers, youth, and people of color, these attacks on all of our rights can be beaten back.
Justice #31, September 2002