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Activists worry official actions in Boston reinforce a 'culture of fear,' deep racism

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Apr 23, 2013 - 10:35:19 PM

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Police security at a roadblock after Boston Marathon bombings. Photo: MGN-Online

WASHINGTON - Literally before the dust had even settled in the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, the crime perpetrated against innocent bombing victims had been compounded again and again by government officials and news organizations who shredded some Constitutional protections promised to all Americans, while at the same time profiling non-Whites in this society and managing to re-define any violent crime committed by an accused Muslim automatically as “terrorism.”

CNN’s John King was the first prominent network correspondent to botch his reporting on the bombing, declaring on the air that a “dark skinned male” was being sought by investigators. Mr. King said authorities had arrested someone in connection with the bombings, which turned out to be completely false. Before that, he repeatedly told viewers that a “dark-skinned male” was apparently at large and being hunted down. Mr. King said he did not want to be more descriptive than that because of “sensitivities.”

On the rival MSNBC cable network, the Rev. Al Sharpton called Mr. King’s comments “coded, offensive language,” and said they had “no place” in the national discourse. “What King’s words did is to make every dark-skinned male in Boston a suspect, and that’s shameful,” the Rev. Sharpton said.

Similarly, the NAACP expressed concern over the erroneous report from CNN. “The fact that this information was false is only part of the problem,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous in a statement.

“Our concern is that CNN used an overly-broad, unhelpful and potentially racially inflammatory categorization to describe the potential suspect. History teaches us that too often people of color are unfairly targeted in the aftermath of acts of terrorism.”

Jack Fleming, of the Boston Athletic Association, which Runners stood in a moment of silence as they gathered to show support for the city of Boston. runs the Boston Marathon, pauses at the finish line. Photo: AP World Wide Photo
What may be more dangerous than the possibility of racial profiling is the casual, matter-of fact manner in which any violent crime involving a Muslim is by definition terrorism, which has led to a “culture of fear” and “fertile soil of fascism.”

“Over the years I’ve watched this, as in this country we’ve developed a culture of fear. It was reinforced by the Bush administration after 9-11,” Joseph Gerson, director of programs for the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers) in New England, told The Final Call. “That is the foundation of fascism and totalitarianism.

“The concern is that as people in the media build a sense of victim hood here, that we develop a deepened culture of fear. And this is something we have to push back against. Nowhere in the world do people live with absolute security. Americans, I think, they’ll want to think about that,” said Mr. Gerson, who lives in Watertown, Mass. just four houses away from the yard in which surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, after a massive, hours long house-to-house search and city-wide lockdown had actually been called off.

“I think we have to push back, both against the culture of fear, but also the question of how obediently we all took the lockdown. I don’t want to say it wasn’t right to do it in some places, but to shut down an entire city? Can you imagine shutting down all of New York City in a manhunt for one person?”

Mr. Gerson compared the ease with which Bostonians accepted what amounted to martial law, in the form of an around-the-clock curfew with being shut-in by a blizzard— “sitting out a New England blizzard without the snow.”

Runners stood in a moment of silence as they gathered to show support for the city of Boston.
People were riveted to televisions and radios throughout the country, watching and listening as details about the dragnet first for Mr. Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan, who was reportedly killed after a shoot-out with police, and then for the younger brother alone.

“These are the events that really shape how (people around the country) think about their relationship to the government, what to expect from the government,” Glenn Greenwald, constitutional lawyer and columnist for The Guardian newspaper told Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!”

“And the images that were sent and the messages that were broadcast over and over and over again were that Muslims were a unique threat, that we ought to be not just tolerant, but grateful, when the U.S. military and police and other authorities fill our streets, shutdown our major cities, ride through and go house to house without search warrants, forcing people to come out of their homes and searching their homes—all sorts of applications of very extreme sort of police and military tactics, all in the name of Islamic terrorism,” Mr. Greenwald continued.

“And the idea that we should just rush to call this terrorism, that we should essentially assume their guilt, that we should suspend normal legal process, that we should treat it differently, is all very much the core of what has driven the radicalism and extremism of the United States government over the last decade.

“And I really believe that this incident will sort of normalize behavior that we should all be very wary of, even in the most extreme conditions, let alone an incident that, although horrific and heinous, in terms of the death count, in terms of what it actually is, really ought to be viewed as a crime.”

In police custody, the surviving suspect was not treated like a “criminal,” but more like a prisoner of war. Despite having suffered serious injuries, Mr. Tsarnaev was questioned without being read his so-called “Miranda rights” to remain silent and have access to an attorney by authorities who used a “public safety exception” to the normal constitutional guarantee. Some conservative lawmakers, among others, want Mr. Tsarnaev treated like an enemy combatant and denied all access to U.S. courts, but White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters April 22 that Mr. Tsarnaev will not be treated as an enemy combatant.

Leaders of the Council on American Islamic Relations insist however that “terror” must be “defined by the act” committed by the accused, and not by that person’s “faith.” “American Muslims repudiate all forms of terror,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told reporters in Washington April 19.

In fact, CAIR officials report, dead suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was ejected from attending a Cambridge, Mass. mosque for a “rage filled rant” against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in January 2013, CAIR reported in a statement released April 21.

The CAIR efforts are aimed at offsetting what Mr. Gerson describes as some “deep forces in the society.”

“Racism remains deep in the society. There are occasions in which people feel legitimated in expressing it,” he said. “And the other thing in the society is the degree to which the Crusades never ended.

“The tensions between Christianity and Islamic societies, I think also give rise to the sense of Christian superiority and we end up with some of these attacks. We were clear from the beginning, a number of peace activists here, expressing concerns from the beginning that some of this might happen, and saying from that it’s really important for us to push back against it. We’re going to have to remain attentive and active in pushing back against stereotyping and attacks against Muslim people,” Mr. Gerson continued.

“One of the tragedies in this country is the belief in American exceptionalism. It’s led us into war after war, and if you will, alienated us from much of the world. I think the challenge is for us to come to understand that we are people like everybody else on the planet. We’re one nation among many, and we’ll be more secure if we work for the common security of all people.

“One of my fears for this is that will further reinforce the pressures to increase military spending—and while we’re absolutely savaging spending for human needs, social services, education and the real foundations of societal health.

“My hope is that, through your work, and that of other people, we can help to educate those people. We’ve got to put a lot of energy into healing,” Mr. Gerson said.