Is it time for racial profiling?


Group photoIn an era of collective punishment where we’ve seen how the acts of one person are enough to draw calls for punishing everyone that emotionally, physically, religiously, ideologically  identifies with a heinous perpetrator maybe it IS time to profile young white men. David Sirota asks that question then shoots it down because as he points out ‘white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way‘ but after the Newton shooting tragedy if we believe in the 2nd amendment instead of assaulting that privilege/right given us by the founding fathers  perhaps we should put aside talk of “gun control” and look at who commits such catastrophic crimes of mass murder that involve guns. Sirota’s column is a thought provoking read

Yesterday, during a cable news discussion of gun violence and the Newtown school shooting, I dared mention a taboo truism. During a conversation on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes,” I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.

My comment was in response to U.S. Rep. James Langevin (D) floating the idea of employing the Secret Service for such profiling, and I theorized that because the profiling would inherently target white guys, the political response to such an idea might be similar to the Republican response to the 2009 Homeland Security report looking, in part, at the threat of right-wing terrorism. As you might recall, the same GOP that openly supports profiling — and demonizing — Muslims essentially claimed that the DHS report was unacceptable because its focus on white male terrorist groups allegedly stereotyped (read: offensively profiled) conservatives.

For making this point, I quickly became the day’s villain in the right-wing media. From the Daily Caller, to Fox News, to Breitbart, to Glenn Beck’s the Blaze, to all the right-wing blogs and Twitter feeds that echo those outlets’ agitprop, I was attacked for “injecting divisive racial politics” into the post-Newtown discussion (this is a particularly ironic attack coming from Breitbart – the same website that manufactured the Shirley Sherrod fiasco).

The conservative response to my statement, though, is the real news here.

Let’s review: Any honest observer should be able to admit that if the gunmen in these mass shootings mostly had, say, Muslim names or were mostly, say, African-American men, the country right now wouldn’t be confused about the causes of the violence, and wouldn’t be asking broad questions. There would probably be few queries or calls for reflection, and mostly definitive declarations blaming the bloodshed squarely on Islamic fundamentalism or black nationalism, respectively. Additionally, we would almost certainly hear demands that the government intensify the extant profiling systems already aimed at those groups.

Yet, because the the perpetrators in question in these shootings are white men and not ethnic or religious minorities, nobody is talking about demographic profiling them as a group. The discussion, instead, revolves around everything from gun control, to mental health services, to violence in entertainment — everything, that is, except trying to understanding why the composite of these killers is so similar across so many different massacres. This, even though there are plenty of reasons for that topic to be at least a part of the conversation.

Recounting the truth of these double standards is, of course, boringly mundane, which means my comment on television summarizing them is an equally boring and mundane statement of the obvious. However, as evidenced by the aggressive attempt to turn those comments into controversial headline-grabbing news over the weekend, the conservative movement has exposed its desperation — specifically, its desperation to preserve its White Victimization Mythology.

In this mythology, the white man as a single demographic subgroup can never be seen as a perpetrator and must always be portrayed as the unfairly persecuted scapegoat. In this mythology, to even reference an undeniable truth about how white privilege operates on a political level (in this case, to prevent a government profiling system of potential security threats even though such a system exists for other groups) is to be guilty of both “injecting divisive racial politics” and somehow painting one’s “opponents as racist” — even when nobody called any individual a racist.

In this mythology, in short, to mention truths about societal double standards — truths that are inconvenient or embarrassing to white people — is to be targeted for attack by the right-wing media machine.

Of course, just as I didn’t make such an argument yesterday on MSNBC, I’m not right now arguing for a system of demographically profiling white guys as a means of stopping mass murderers (that’s right, the headline at Beck’s website, the Blaze, is categorically lying by insisting I did make such an argument, when the MSNBC video proves that’s not even close to true). After all, broad demographic profiling is not only grotesquely bigoted in how it unduly stereotypes whole groups, it also doesn’t actually work as a security measure and runs the risk of becoming yet another Big Brother-ish monster (this is especially true when a lawmaker is forwarding the idea of deploying a quasi-military apparatus like the Secret Service).

Additionally, I’m not saying we should avoid the complex discussion about myriad issues (gun control, mental health, violence in Hollywood products, etc.) that we are having in the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy. On the contrary, I believe it is good news that those nuanced conversations — rather than simplistic calls for punitive measures against a demographic group — are able to happen, and it’s particularly good news that they are persisting in the face of pro-gun extremists’ best effort to polarize the conversation.

But the point here is that those tempered and nuanced conversations are only able to happen because the demographic at the center of it all is white guys. That is the one group in America that gets to avoid being referred to in aggregate negative terms (and gets to avoid being unduly profiled by this nation’s security apparatus), which means we are defaulting to a much more dispassionate and sane conversation — one that treats the perpetrators as deranged individuals, rather than typical and thus stereotype-justifying representatives of an entire demographic.

While such fair treatment should be the norm for all citizens, the double standard at work makes clear it is still a special privilege for a select white few. That’s the issue at the heart of my comment on MSNBC — and it is a pressing problem no matter how much the conservative media machine wants to pretend it isn’t.

“Rev.” Jones and other Michigan news


We all wish he would go away but psychosis inflates people’s sense of themselves and they just don’t get the hint that no body really wants them around.  Such is the case with media hound, Terry Jones.  You remember him, the guy who wanted to burn Qurans last summer in Florida to protest the building of the  Park51 masjid in New York city, who later reneged on that threat after intervention by some folks down in Florida, Jones’ home state…only to burn a Quran early this year.  Well he’s back and this time he wants to protest radical Islam in front of a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan of all places.  You can read about Jones’ latest escapade on the pages of that excellent blog, Loonwatch here.

Jones is certifiable and I really don’t care what he does, but what I do care about is the reaction the Muslims have to this sad fellow who really should be committed for his sake as well as ours.  For too long, the Muslim community in America has withered under the criticism directed towards them post 911, almost accepting the blame for one of the largest atrocities to happen to our Nation that they, Muslim Americans had nothing to do with.   Instead of asserting their claim to this country in much the same way as others who’ve populated America’s shores, Muslims have been reeling from claims they sponsor or are responsible for terrorism, or harbor terrorists or any of a number of racist and bigoted comments America is known for making towards those who are different than the one spewing the offensive venom and invective.

What Muslims need to do in the face of Jones’ latest threat is to invite him to Michigan, politely disagree with his premise that they are any more responsible for acts of terrorism than he himself is, acknowledge his citizenship rights to free speech and the right to keep and bear arms, thank him for his pledge to honor the citizenship rights of good peaceful Muslims (or whatever paternalistic inane phrase he wants to use to take a side swipe at the Islamic community of America) and assure him that they too will stand outside the mosque in Dearborn and any and every able bodied Muslim adult, male of female, who is legally capable of purchasing and carrying a firearm will assert their constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms and to free speech; that they too will respect the rights of people to disagree with them in their act of protest but they have just as much right to that protest as Jones himself.  Should he want to enter their place of worship or talk to one of the worshippers of the mosque he is most welcomed, but that he will be escorted by people who are just as heavily armed as he and who believe as much as he that as American citizens they have nothing to fear from the assertion that their rights are as important to them as his.  They should proclaim that gone are the days when they will answer any more supercilious claims of bigotry and hatred that are thrown in their direction and that rather they proclaim proudly they have just as much right to the rights Jones hold dear for himself as every other American.  In that respect they are brothers with Jones, citizens of the same Republic, but they do not share nor indulge in the demagoguery with him and other Islamophobes that are for now so prevalent, nor do they choose to denigrate  any person who lays claim to the rights of citizenship America gives to those who live legally on her shores.  That is the very least the Muslim citizens of Dearborn should do in the face of the Jones media circus that is headed their way.  Anything less than that is a waste of the US Constitution.

And speaking of the US Constitution, have you heard this news?  It appears Michigan State police are swiping phone data from anyone they stop for a traffic violation!  If you are pulled over in the state of Michigan police for any traffic related offense you will be asked to surrender your cell phone and a device, Cellebrite UFED can then extract a wide variety of data from it including contacts, text messages, deleted text messages, call history, pictures, audio and video recordings, phone details including the phone number and complete memory file dumps on some handsets.  Sounds mighty Orwellian to me.  I’m glad to see the ACLU is on the case claiming such tactics are in violation of 4th amendment protections against unreasonable searches, and  no doubt many an opponent of the Obama administration is secretly happy too that organizations like the ACLU in a time when their ardent political foe is in power are available to fight the encroachment of government on our rights.  Let’s not forget that under the Bush administration the government was given broad powers to conduct searches even without warrants from judges if they thought a criminal act was imminent.  What’s happening in Michigan is even where there is no probable cause law enforcement is implying that if you have nothing to hide you should surrender your phone to them to have all its data transferred in a matter of seconds.  Unless you are black, which means the police will stop you whatever you do or don’t do, my advice is dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s when you’re driving out and about in the state of Michigan if you don’t want your cell phone data in the hands of law enforcement officials.