If America Treated Racism the Way It Treats Terrorism

Stories would be told a whole lot differently.

Law-enforcement officers secure the area where authorities arrested terror suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami following a shootout in Linden, N.J., on Sept. 19, 2016.
Law-enforcement officers secure the area where authorities arrested terror suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami following a shootout in Linden, N.J., on Sept. 19, 2016. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

As soon as America caught wind of the makeshift bombs that exploded in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota this weekend, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio quickly assembled the media and held a press conference, pleading for calm while authorities investigated the incidents. Along with the usual fear and outrage came calls from the conservative right side of the aisle for him and other politicians to immediately condemn the attacks on American citizens and brand the episodes with the infamous “ism” that pigeonholes every one of these occurrences as an act of hate.

I—on the other hand—wondered what the argument would sound like if this country were as sensitive to racism as it is to the country’s collective clutching of pearls about the horrific acts of terrorism that took place this weekend. Testing this argument does not require the stretching of false equivalencies or the bending of opinion. In fact, this might be the laziest piece of satire ever written, because all it requires is replacing the word “racism” with “terrorism,” and voilà! There you have it—a theoretical mad lib that answers the question, “What if we treated racism like we treat terrorism?

Maybe we should look at these apparent acts of terror with the sober objectivity the rest of America applies to police killings and other kinds of violent attacks. Shouldn’t we apply the same caution to the bombings, stabbings and mass shootings that we do to the videos of police shooting unarmed black men and women? When black people attribute state violence to prejudice, many citizens (pronounced “wyt pee-pull”) practice a subdued reluctance to say the word “racism.” Shouldn’t we apply this tactic across the board?

In short—why does everything have to be about terrorism?

Let me make this clear: It is tragic when innocent Minnesotans just trying to get home become victims of random acts of violence, whether walking through a mall or reaching for their license and registration. We should also be appalled when citizens who are minding their own business, standing on the corner in New York City, trying to catch a train or (and I’m just pulling this example out of thin air) selling a few loose cigarettes, find themselves suddenly on the ground unable to breathe because of the actions of a single person with hate in his heart and a history of violence.

But the larger question is, why are we so quick to brand this as terrorism? If we are a country of laws and procedures, shouldn’t we wait for a lengthy investigation, a grand jury and our 200-year-old justice system before we jump to conclusions? We should wait for the evidence to come in before we point fingers all willy-nilly at the accused. A protocol has been established, and the worst thing we can do is deny people their due process and convict them in the court of public opinion.

Why do you people always want to play the “terror card”?

Not everything is about terror. The grainy surveillance footage and cellphone videos don’t always tell the complete story. Perhaps there are other explanations. Maybe the perpetrators of these atrocities weren’t acting out of hate. Maybe they feared for their lives. After all, we weren’t there, so we really can’t say what happened. We can’t just accuse people of being terrorists until we have a thorough examination of the facts.

Before we talk about terrorism, maybe we should discuss the things that kill people randomly on street corners and at train stations. Why aren’t we having a conversation about New Yorker-on-New Yorker crime? If you look at the statistics, New Yorkers are far more likely to be killed by another New Yorker than a Muslim extremist. Why won’t the mainstream media talk about this?

Have you ever been to New Jersey? In 2015, 361 New Jerseyans fell victim to homicide. Almost all of them were killed by other people from New Jersey. We need to take a look at solving this epidemic before we approach terrorism in the state. That’s just logic. Maybe the people of New Jersey should focus on their own community before complaining about terrorist activity.

I hope the president doesn’t inject himself into this argument. The last thing we need is the leader of the free world uttering the phrase “radical Islamic extremism” from his bully pulpit. Using the same logic applied to Black Lives Matter and other organizations, it must mean he hates all Muslims. Even though white terrorists have killed more Americans than the Islamic State group and al-Qaida in the last 10 years. Even though the average American is 58 times more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist. So please cease the anti-Islamic rhetoric. Shame on you.

And for heaven’s sake (and by “heaven” we mean the one with the angelic Caucasian Christians, not the one with 77 virgins or Tupac ’n ’em), please don’t argue that there is a difference between the Muslims who commit violence against Americans and the others who practice a religion of peace and love. There is no room for nuance in a discussion about terror. According to the rules established by police unions, Fox News and Chick-fil-A, speaking out against terrorism automatically means you are anti-Islam. In fact, whenever there is a bombing or mass killing, there is a procedure that we should follow to ensure that these kinds of events don’t take place again:

  1. Put the suspect on paid administrative leave.
  2. Conduct an extensive investigation behind closed doors.
  3. Make sure the suspect is defended by a system whose best interest is to exonerate him or her.
  4. Announce that a top secret grand jury, or an internal investigation, found no evidence of wrongdoing.
  5. Let the suspect go.
  6. Pay the victims millions of dollars with taxpayers’ money.

We know this method—as practiced by law-enforcement agencies around the United States—works flawlessly. If all else fails, there is one sure way to put an end to these incidents. You don’t have to actually do anything. Simply make this announcement after every attack:

“We need to have a conversation about terrorism.”

In fact, before next week’s NFL games, or during any display of patriotism, please make sure you have no mention of the people who perished from terrorist incidents or violence against Americans. These kinds of displays are disrespectful to the flag and the people who gave their lives to make America free. If it starts to become a thing, I’m sure you can find celebrities like Cam Newton or Lil Wayne to prove we’re living in a post-terrorist world, because they don’t believe terrorism exists anymore.

So far this year, 355 people of color have been killed by police. In the 15 years since 9/11, 94 Americans have been killed by violent jihadi attacks.

Only one of these topics is the source of national discourse, political policy and universal outrage.

Maybe we should treat both the same.

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