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July 30, 2005

Everything Is Not Race

Both my children died today, because of racism.

With them died 393 innocent travelers on the DC Metro. If you've ever ridden the DC Metro, you'll know they weren't all white, anglo-saxon Protestants. No, they came in all flavors. Whites, Asians from Indonesia, Japan, Korea, China; Hispanics, blacks, Muslims, Jews, atheists, lesbians, gays, Christians, and undoubtedly a few Wiccas. Funny: in the instant before they were incinerated, their religion, sexual orientation, national origin and skin color ceased to matter.

They are all grey now.

Ashes. And the few traces of blood left behind, splattered on the subway walls, were uniformly red.

My youngest son was a passenger. He was just along for the ride, traveling to work as he does every morning. I doubt he even had time to notice what was going on before he died. I hope so.

My oldest son is a cop. He was on duty that morning. He could have stopped the whole thing from happening.

Except for racism. And because of racism, 393 good people lost their lives.

You see, my son doesn't normally work the Metro. But local police have been detailed to support the Metro Police in the wake of the London Bombings. And that morning he was following a young man whose apartment complex had been under surveillance. The man was acting suspiciously as he headed toward the Metro. And he was carrying a rucksack (which many Metro travelers do). As he entered the station, my son couldn't help noticing how he shied away from any position where there were police officers. Every sense my son had cried out to stop this guy - to search him - that something was very wrong.

But he couldn't stop him. He could only follow, and watch. Departmental policy.

Why? The man was an Arab. And Muslim. And a young male. The Untouchable Trio - stop him, question him, do anything at all to him without an ironclad reason and you'd be accused of racial profiling.

As the young man darted onto the waiting train, my son imagined calling out to him: "Stop!" A brief chase. A struggle. Maybe some help from the Metro Police, if they could be found. He shook his head and stepped onto the train.


Colbert King thinks racial profiling is the worst thing in the world. He thinks it "makes a mockery of the rights to which people in this country are entitled".

As is customary for this type of shameless column, the bloody flag of racism is waved early, and waved often. The police (many of whom these days are black and hispanic) are all racist pigs without the merest shred of common sense or decency. No doubt they have hangin' trees already set up behind the local station for those moments in which other forms of entertainment pall:

Krauthammer blasted the random-bag-checks program adopted in the New York subway in response to the London bombings, calling it absurd and a waste of effort and resources. His answer: Security officials should concentrate on "young Muslim men of North African, Middle Eastern and South Asian origin." Krauthammer doesn't say how authorities should go about identifying "Muslim men" or how to distinguish non-Muslim men from Muslim men entering a subway station. Probably just a small detail easily overlooked.

In case you're not clued in to the agenda, Mr. Colbert will tell you later that he's afraid his sons, who are black, will by some idiotic mistake be taken for Muslims and shot to death for no apparent reason. Police, in Mr. King's estimation, are Not Too Bright. I find this incredibly amusing, if not insulting for two reasons. First of all, my oldest son is a college graduate who had top-notch test scores and very good grades. He could have done anything he wanted to after college. Some people considered police work 'beneath' him. Apparently Mr. King is one of those.

The other thing I find amusing is that my husband, a white, anglo-Saxon Protestant military officer with almost-black hair, very dark brown eyes, and Mediterranean features, who generally has a five-o-clock shadow by 3 pm, looks far more like a Muslim than any black man I have ever seen. His father, a career Naval officer and two-time Vietnam vet who is dead now, was a dashingly handsome man with black hair, olive skin, aquiline features and a rather hooked nose. He really looked as though he might have some Arab blood in him somewhere, though we used to make fun of him and call it "French". But I'll return to this thought later.

First we are treated to Mr. King's rather entertaining view of police work. Apparently all knowledge of a criminal suspect should be disregarded. In the politically-correct world of Mr. Colbert King, your 2 year-old toddler or the doddering octagenarian next door are just as capable of being a serial rapist as that shifty white, male loner with no fixed address. Everyone is equally suspect.

By his reckoning, the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all should be limited to a select group. Krauthammer argued that authorities should work backward and "eliminate classes of people who are obviously not suspects." In the category of the innocent, Krauthammer would place children younger than 13, people older than 60 and "whole ethnic populations" starting with "Hispanics, Scandinavians and East Asians . . . and women," except "perhaps the most fidgety, sweaty, suspicious-looking, overcoat-wearing, knapsack-bearing young women."

Let's count the number of non-Arab female suicide bombers under 13 or over 60, shall we Mr. King? After all, if the goal of security measures is TO KEEP PEOPLE SECURE FROM THOSE WHO ARE TRYING TO MURDER THEM, then arguably the police might be forgiven for trying to find the people who are doing the dastardly deed. And generally when you detail a group of people to find something, the first question they ask is, "What does it look like? Describe it." But to Colbert, that little question is out of bounds. Police must search blindfolded.

Of course, by eliminating Scandinavians from his list of obvious terror suspects, Krauthammer would have authorities give a pass to all white people, since subway cops don't check passengers' passports for country of origin.

Lovely. Because you know white people all look alike. I'm just contemplating the delicious shrieking, had Mr. Krauthammer said that about blacks.

As for sweaty, fidgety, knapsack-bearing, overcoat-wearing young women who happen to be black, brown or yellow? Tough nuggies, in Krauthammer's book.

Actually Mr. King, Krauthammer eliminated all women.

The age-60 cutoff is meaningless, too, since subway cops aren't especially noted for accuracy in pinning down stages of life. In Krauthammer's worldview, it's all quite simple: Ignore him and his son; suspect me and mine.

Again we see the perpetual whine of the liberal. The perfect is always the enemy of the good. If you can't precisely cut everything off right at 60, the criterion is totally worthless. Mr. Krauthammer was throwing out some alternative suggestions. Certainly they make more sense than the current situation. But here we get to the nub of the matter, for all of this isn't really about Arabs. It's about (it's always about) being black:

Sperry also has his own proxy for suspicious characters. He warned security and subway commuters to be on the lookout for "young men praying to Allah and smelling of flower water." Keep your eyes open, he said, for "a shaved head or short haircut" or a recently shaved beard or moustache. Men who look like that, in his book, are "the most suspicious train passengers."

It appears to matter not to Sperry that his description also includes huge numbers of men of color, including my younger son, a brown-skinned occasional New York subway rider who shaves his head and moustache. He also happens to be a former federal prosecutor and until a few years ago was a homeland security official in Washington. Sperry's profile also ensnares my older brown-skinned son, who wears a very short haircut, may wear cologne at times, and has the complexion of many men I have seen in Africa and the Middle East. He happens to be a television executive. But what the hell, according to Sperry, "young Muslim men of Arab or South Asian origin" fit the terrorist profile. How, just by looking, can security personnel identify a Muslim male of Arab or South Asian origin goes unexplained.

Well Mr. King, perhaps you can explain to me why my husband, a senior Marine officer traveling on official orders, for several years in a terrorism capacity, has been openly harassed, searched, pulled out of line time and time again for special scrutiny when traveling? He is white. And he, unlike either of your sons, has been serving this country for twenty-five years. Explain to me how the general welfare is served by having a Marine officer selected, time and time again, for special scrutiny?

And young black men, for the most part, do not have Arab facial features. You ask "how can law enforcement tell the difference?". Most children can tell the difference, by and large. Despite your incredulity, there are differences in the way people of differing ethnicities dress, groom, comport themselves. In the texture of their hair. In their bone structure: in general, Asians, Arabs, Africans, northern Europeans, in addition to having a variety of skin colors, have characteristic facial features as well. Any plastic surgeon or police reconstruction artist will tell you that.

But Mr. King isn't finished. He can't wait to break out the lynching rumors:

Reportedly, after Sept. 11, 2001, some good citizens of California took out after members of the Sikh community, mistaking them for Arabs. Oh, well, what's a little political incorrectness in the name of national security. Bang, bang -- oops, he was Brazilian. Two young black guys were London bombers: one Jamaican, the other Somalian. Muslim, too. Ergo: Watch your back when around black men -- they could be, ta-dum, Muslims.

First of all, "the good citizens of California" aren't cops. Cops are trained. And regarding the young Brazilian, yes, that was a tragic mistake. And all that young man had to do to stop it was to obey the officer's request to stop for questioning. But he chose not to obey a lawful order, just days after a bombing attempt. What was he thinking? Why did he run? We will never know. Just like the officer who shot him could never have known whether he had a bomb in that rucksack.

According to Colbert King, he should have been allowed to keep running. Because in the end, it was more important not to make a mistake with one person who (it appears) was in the country illegally and so chose to run when asked to stop for questioning, than to save the lives of a trainload of innocent passengers.

One wonders how Mr. King would feel, what kind of "editorial" he would write, if his son were on that train, and it blew up.

No doubt racism would find its way into that sad, sad tale too. But it's not all about race.

Being detained for questioning, as long as the questioning is done in a fair and lawful manner, is not the worst thing that can happen to an individual or a society. Being singled out to be searched, as my husband has been repeatedly, unfairly, disproportionately, RIDICULOUSLY, given that he was a Marine officer traveling on anti-terrorism business, is not the worst thing that can happen. No doubt that is why my husband has never complained - not one single time - even though he is not supposed to be searched when traveling on official orders. Because he knows, despite the inconvenience, WHICH IS ALL IT AMOUNTS TO, IN THE END, that TSA official are just trying to do a difficult job.

I'll tell you what's the worst thing that can happen. We'll see it when we have another 9/11. When another three thousand people lie dead because people like Colbert King insist on injecting race into every conceivable conversation. When they imply that the police just can't wait to string up another Negro on no evidence. When they lace their editorials with the implication that blacks are the true targets when they know better. Take a look at the officers manning your local Metro and TSA stations. A large part of the faces you see are black and brown, Mr. King. The last time I passed through Dulles International Airport, among officials who checked me through security were a Muslim female, an Indian male, and an Indonesian. And yes, I can tell the difference. I've lived in Washington - a polyglot city - for years. It doesn't take a brain surgeon. There are your "racists".

Reasonable searches and questioning are not internment camps. Profiling of criminal suspects, when based on reasonable statistical inference, is NOT racism. It is common sense that protects innocent citizens of ALL races.

Posted by Cassandra at July 30, 2005 10:29 PM

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I'll add this... you *still* need to check the 75 year old grannies in wheelchairs.

Why? Because if it becomes obvious to the terrs that there *are* protected classes of people, they will find a way to flex and adapt. That group of people is perfectly capable of wiring up a baby carriage with a baby in it.

The irony here is that we *are* creating a protected class of people... the very group from which most suicide bombers come from.

The Police need both tools - the ability to check the most obvious groups more often, and the discipline to periodically check the less obvious groups.

Posted by: John of Argghhh! at July 31, 2005 10:29 AM

I am actually not in favor of exempting anyone from scrutiny, but as you observe, this is *precisely* what anti-racial profiling policies do.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 31, 2005 10:44 AM

There's an interesting parallel to this thread HERE.

It's an interesting blog that someone from ScrappleFace turned me on to...called neo-neocon.

You may wish to add a link to it; I did...

Posted by: camojack at July 31, 2005 03:55 PM

I want to call BS on something King said in his column.

He made a launrdy list of "non-Arab" terrorist acts in the last couple decades, which is perhaps the biggest strawman I've ever seen. What King leaves out - what every single person who makes this argument leaves out - is that none of these attacks were tied to an organized group of people attempting to destroy the United States of America. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Timothy McVeigh? Part of a small group of conspirators, whose ring was smashed thanks to the arrests of McVeigh and his accomplices.

Eric Rudolph? One man, repudiated without equivocation by the Christian religions, who threatened a small portion of the population and who, thanks to targeted law enforcement, no longer threatens those people.

Dennis Rader? A serial-killer - not a terrorist. There's a difference.

John Walker Lindh? Sure, a white guy, but pretty unmistakably tied to Islamism thanks to his dress and overall appearance. You'd never mistake him for, say, a skinhead.

The IRA, Italian Neo-fascists, and Colombian drug gangs? Well, unless I missed a newsletter, not one of these groups poses a direct violent threat ot the US, nor have they ever, ever so much as intimated one.

The Chechen Rebels? Well, they are Muslim but, again, they've not so much as looked in the direction of the United States.

King is purposefully delusional. If he truly wants us to search every potential terrorist threat, then, by his own examples, you can be sure we'll be jacking up members of the Nation of Islam whose leader has called for direct violence against Jews and whites in this country. We'll be looking pretty hard at the remnants of the Black Panthers who, not all that long ago, were formenting riots that destroyed considerable parts of major US cities.

I think that King, in his hyperventilation to condemn profiling simply because it is profiling, is going to find that his solution is far worse than he can possibly imagine. I wonder how he'll react to the greater number of arrests on our subways thanks to illegal items (like, say, drugs) found on people who have been randomly searched (and ths SCOTUS had already found those sorts of arrests to be perfectly legal, as I recall).

Posted by: Jimmie at July 31, 2005 03:56 PM

Grannies in wheel chairs are potentially dangerous, and we need to be searching them just as much as the Muslim men. They could load down that wheelchair with lots of explosives while sitting on an automatic fire rifle. Every time I get on a plane with a wheelchair granny, my heart sinks.

Posted by: KJ at August 1, 2005 11:53 AM

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