Many of the political reactions to yesterday’s deadly terrorism in Brussels were disheartening, but Ted Cruz’s reaction was especially problematic. The right-wing presidential candidate argued in a written statement that he would, among other things, respond to the attacks by empowering law enforcement to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
The position raised more questions than it answered. As we discussed yesterday, no one seems able to say with certainty what constitutes a “Muslim neighborhood,” whether it’s legal to dispatch law enforcement to “patrol and secure” American neighborhoods based on the religious beliefs of some of its residents, what exactly law enforcement would do in these U.S. communities, and whether Cruz envisions a semi-permanent police state in these areas.
There was some question yesterday as to whether Cruz may have been referring to “Muslim neighborhoods” abroad, but the senator soon after explained that he was specifically talking about American communities on American soil.
NBC News reported that Cruz later clarified what he has in mind.
… Cruz explained his proposal to reporters on Tuesday night, saying it is “good law enforcement” to target neighborhoods that may be “festering jihadism.”“It is standard law enforcement — it is good law enforcement to focus on where threats are emanating from, and anywhere where there is a locust of radicalization, where there is an expending presence of radical Islamic terrorism,” Cruz told reporters on Tuesday evening in Manhattan.
The Texas senator later compared his idea to ridding neighborhoods of gang activity and law enforcement’s efforts “to take them off the street.” Cruz added that there’s some precedent for what he has in mind: he pointed to the New York Police Department’s use of a “proactive policing program” under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Cruz’s original argument was bad. The clarification is worse.
Right off the bat, comparing law-abiding Americans, who’ve done nothing except remain in a faith tradition Ted Cruz is suspicious of, to gang members is ridiculous.
As for Cruz’s NYPD parallel, let’s not forget that the surveillance program the senator referred to never led to a single terrorist investigation – ever – though it did lead to a series of credible lawsuits. In fact, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton spoke out publicly yesterday to explain that Cruz has no idea what he’s talking about.
As for the bigger picture, there are two broad angles to keep in mind. The first is that targeting Muslim Americans, en masse, because of the actions of some lunatics abroad is plainly wrong. The United States isn’t supposed to act this way, and in the instances in our history which we’ve forgotten this, we now look back at those moments with shame, not pride.
But even if you don’t find that persuasive, and even if you’re unconcerned about principles and civil liberties, consider this from a purely practical perspective: Ted Cruz believes the way to prevent radicalization of a religious minority is to discriminate against that religious minority through heavy-handed law enforcement tactics.
It’s hard to even imagine a more dangerously misguided approach to keeping Americans safe.