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Traveling While Black

By Rhodesia Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 1, 2019 - 2:36:33 PM

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Was activist a target of racial profiling in recent overseas trip?

HOUSTON—A trip to London turned into a nightmare for the national chair of the New Black Panther Party, Krystal Muhammad, when the Houston-based activist became a target for what she calls racial profiling and racism while attempting to fly internationally.

Sharif Amenhotep of the New Black Panther Party

Ms. Muhammad and two other members of the group were in flight to London to participate in a 90-minute roundtable talk about a documentary they were featured in, “What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire?” The film takes an intimate look into brutal killings of Black men in the South and the state of race in America.

Sharif Amenhotep, field marshal for the New Black Panther Party, who accompanied Ms. Muhammad to London, believes their work as freedom fighters and involvement in the film made them targets.

Prior to her London trip, Ms. Muhammad said she contacted U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), National Black United Front Chairman Kofi Taharka, and Nation of Islam Southwest Region Student Minister Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad, based in Houston, to alert them to her travels in the event she had any problems.

In the past, Ms. Muhammad said, it has taken at least four hours to get through security just flying domestically. She knew flying internationally would be more difficult so she wanted to alert the congresswoman and two community leaders of her travel plans because she knew they would be good advocates.

Problems surfaced as she attempted to board Air Canada in New Orleans for a connecting flight in Toronto, she said. However, Rep. Jackson Lee made phone calls to ensure Ms. Muhammad and other group members boarded the plane safely.

“When we arrived in Canada, my passport stopped scanning,” said Ms. Muhammad. “Both brothers I was traveling with passports worked. So, one brother stayed with me and the other went ahead to London. The U.S. airline rep. said I had an invalid passport, and not only will I have to go to the U.S. Consulate of Toronto to get another one, but that I couldn’t stay at the airport. So, we were escorted off the premises by security,” she explained.

Rep. Jackson Lee is a senior member of the Homeland Security committee. Much of her work is on justice and security issues and national security. When she heard Ms. Muhammad was essentially being detained in Canada, the federal lawmaker contacted national security agencies.

U.S. Congresswoman Jackson Lee didn’t have any jurisdiction in Canada, but that didn’t stop her. She continued to push against the Canadian government.

Ms. Muhammad said she thought all she would have to do is get another passport—though she knew nothing was wrong with the one she had. Her journey began April 10, but by the next morning, she and Mr. Amenhotep sat at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto waiting for a new passport. They were told her passport needed additional processing and authorities would call when it was ready. However, they were told to leave the building.

They didn’t have anywhere to go, so they went across the street to a Staples office supply store.

Kofi Taharka (left) National Chairman of Black United Front and Krystal Muhammad, National Chairwoman of the New Black Panther Party discuss her recent ordeal with being detained in Canada at the U.S. Consulate with Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad on his “Connect the Dots” radio show.

“I questioned why we had to leave the building if this was the U.S. Consulate, a place, I thought, Americans could seek refuge in if they were stranded on foreign land?” Mr. Amenhotep said.

Ms. Muhammad said they were treated rudely and once again escorted off the premises by security.

“We weren’t given any reason why we had to leave the consulate, but I was called back hours later and asked to come alone,” she said. “When I arrived, I was confronted by two White men from Homeland Security.”

The men questioned why she was going to London, asked how she felt about racism, and other peculiar questions, according to the activist. Ms. Muhammad said she knew then the harassment was intensifying. She was forced to leave the consulate again and with no passport.

“This was an ongoing, outright display of racism and discrimination that has been placed on us by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Mr. Amenhotep argued.

The SPLC is widely known for tracking so-called hate groups in the United States and exposing their activities to the public, the media, and law enforcement. The group—which has been hit with allegations of fostering a hostile work environment toward women and Blacks—lists the New Black Panther Party and Nation of Islam as hate groups. “It seems the Southern Poverty Law Center’s true purpose is to discredit and disrupt progressive forward-thinking revolutionary Black organizations under the disguise of being a so-called watch-dog group. But for decades now all they’ve done is slander the good work and the good deeds of the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party,” Ms. Muhammad said in a previous Final Call interview.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center declared us domestic terrorists and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security labeled us that too, but they don’t have any means to justify it,” Mr. Amenhotep said. “It has made traveling, among other things, very difficult for us.”

He said he began noticing four S’s (“SSSS”) on his airline boarding pass, which stands for “secondary security screening selection” designed by Transportation Security Administration. It means a passenger will go through a more extensive screening process, including enhanced pat downs, carry-on luggage may be inspected by hand, and the agent may test for possible explosive materials.

“They say it’s at random, but it’s very intentional,” Mr. Amenhotep said. “The Canadian police told us that U.S. Customs said we couldn’t fly home because we were on a no-fly list, but they wouldn’t say why. So, I asked if we could speak to customs and we were told no and that we would be arrested if we entered the airport again.”

The Final Call contacted the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, TSA, Air Canada and received no response. An unidentified Delta airlines customer service rep. told The Final Call their employees follow instructions given by TSA and if passengers had any issues with security contact TSA.

The Final Call also contacted Homeland Security officials in Washington, D.C. but was unsuccessful at reaching anyone.

Mr. Amenhotep said the biggest injustice was denying him and Ms. Muhammad re-entry into the U.S. “They told us we were not allowed back into the U.S. They tried to get us to drive across the border knowing we would be detained and possibly harmed. Had it not been for Congresswoman Lee, I don’t think we would’ve made it back into the U.S.”

Although they never made it to London, four days later, April 13, Ms. Muhammad got her new passport. Rep. Jackson Lee managed to get them escorted by a TSA rep to the plane headed to Atlanta with a connecting flight back to New Orleans. However, when they arrived in Atlanta, neither of their passports cleared and their boarding passes were flagged again.

Student Minister Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad said the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, told the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, “Brother, you can’t fathom the depths of Satan.”

“These people hate our very shadow,” he asserted. “It is as the Minister warned us when he said, ‘the mask of civility is coming off.’ So now, we’re seeing what the slave master’s children and their government actually thinks about us in 2019. The bottom line is that it is past time to put separation on the table in order to resolve the 464-year-old race problem in America.”

Krystal Muhammad argued these tactics are part of a concerted U.S. government effort to criminalize Black freedom fighters who are exposing acts of terror against Black people.

“The police are the local military of the state government and 90 percent of the action that we’ve had has been addressing the genocide of our people that has been carried on by the police. And, because we speak out against their terrorism, they call us Black Identity Extremists,” she said.

Two months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Media Justice filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI and Department of Justice for records related to the surveillance of Black people and Black-led organizations pursuant to a 2017 FBI Intelligence Assessment that asserts, without evidence, the existence of so-called “Black Identity Extremists likely motivated to target law enforcement officers.”

“The FBI’s baseless claims about a fictitious group of ‘Black Identity Extremists’ throws open the door to racial profiling of Black people and Black-led organizations who are using their voices to demand racial justice,” said Nusrat Choudhury, deputy director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.

“Our government’s shameful practice of using surveillance as a weapon against racial justice activism was wrong in the past and has no place in our present. The public needs to know whether the FBI is manufacturing a threat to improperly surveil, investigate, and prosecute Black people for constitutionally protected activity.”

“I will continue to pursue and address the issue of racial profiling,” said Rep. Jackson Lee. “No one should be treated unfairly because of different political views or because of their race,” she added. She says she will continue to fight against efforts to label Black Americans as Black Identity Extremists.

The 13-term congresswoman told The Final Call in a recent statement that she will continue to fight against efforts to label Black Americans as Black Identity Extremists. During her ordeal Krystal Muhammad said they were forced to incur additional unexpected expenses for days in a hotel, car rental and expenses for expediting replacement of her passport.

Ms. Muhammad is looking into filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government including the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, and U.S. Customs, for infringing upon human rights, civil rights, and inalienable rights to travel.

“The United States denied our citizenship when they refused us asylum in the embassy in a foreign land,” she pointed out. “I would like to hold financially accountable Air Canada who helped make this happen as well as Delta airlines. We want this Black Identity Extremist and domestic terrorist label lifted off of our names because it’s affecting our daily livelihood as freedom fighters.”

(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)