In the 1990s, National Action Network and I worked on a case with the late Johnnie Cochran where we introduced the term racial profiling into America’s lexicon. Four young Black and Latino men from New York were traveling to North Carolina for a basketball tournament when two White police officers pulled them over on the New Jersey Turnpike and opened fire, injuring three of them. Profiling, whether it be racial, religious, or any other kind, is a poison on society that can unknowingly chip away at its principles. After the catastrophic Boston marathon bombings, we must take great measure in making sure that in our diligent pursuit of all responsible parties, we do not begin down a slippery slope of profiling and demonizing entire groups, religions or ethnicities. Profiling based on race or religious affiliation is not only immoral and unproductive, but it also gives more power to those wrongdoers that fall outside of the profile. As I’ve echoed for decades, these kinds of dangerous practices criminalize the innocent and rarely solve crime itself, or prevent the actual criminals. Profiling will only help the terrorists.
When Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the now deceased suspect in the Boston attack, allegedly had two outbursts in a local mosque, the members of that congregation shouted him down and asked him not to return (according to reports). Immediately upset over his inflammatory rhetoric towards Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, as well as his objection toward celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving, those in attendance couldn’t have been more patriotic in their stance. Today, we’re hearing other reports that a Boston mosque (possibly the same one) has refused to hold the funeral and burial for Tamerlan because of his reprehensible actions. And in the recent thwarted train terror plot, it was Toronto’s Muslim community that led police to the suspects. Instead of highlighting these devoted Muslims and their praise-worthy actions, much of the focus has remained on reigniting the flames of Islamophobia and racial/religious profiling.
Since Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev were identified as the bombing suspects, coverage of their backgrounds and the subtle implication of all those of the Islamic faith has been dangerously present everywhere we look. It’s important that we do not lump everyone into one category, or blame an entire religion for the actions of a few. Just as the appalling alleged acts of Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Adam Lanza, Timothy McVeigh and others do not represent their entire communities, we cannot allow the appalling acts of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar to speak for their respective communities whether it be Islamic, Chechen or any other.
I’ve been a Christian preacher since I was just a little boy. Religion has and will continue to remain a solid foundation in everything that I do. But as a Christian, I can say that there are those who claim to belong to my faith and then behave in the most un-Christian like manner. Am I painted with the same brush as preachers who were also members of the KKK that went and burned crosses, attacked the innocent and condoned bombings of Black churches? There are and always will be extremists in every religion, just as there are good and bad folks from all ethnic backgrounds and in all corners of the world. We cannot therefore profile and condemn all followers of one religion whenever a disturbed individual(s) takes it upon himself/herself to commit an atrocity. The bombings in Boston pulled at the heartstrings of all Americans and we mourned along with those suffering. But our response to that grief will tell a lot about who we are as a nation.
Last week, John King from CNN made a comment about searching for a ‘dark-skinned male’ as the hunt for the bomber(s) was under way. What his words did was to make every dark-skinned male in the Boston area and beyond suspect and vulnerable to being profiled, stopped, searched, arrested or worse. The New York Post splashed pictures of the wrong men on the front pages of its paper and accused them of being responsible for the attacks. In all the emotion of the moment, we need to take steps to make sure we are not profiling and harassing all dark-skinned men going forward, or all people of a particular religion, while the real offenders slip under the radar. The most dangerous reaction we can have is to profile the innocent, as those who do not fit the profile can then feel comfortable to execute the crime.
I have long discussed the dangers of profiling. Whether it’s driving while black, practices like ‘stop & frisk’ or going after all ‘dark-skinned’ males or Muslims, or Arabs, or others, profiling creates further distrust between marginalized communities and authorities. As the foiled train plot proves, more cooperation between them is exactly what we need. We cannot waste time on profiling while the real terrorists get away. It’s time for thorough investigating, law enforcement and prevention; not a witch hunt.