Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Goodbye America

On Monday night, the volume of Internet traffic to Ian Spiers' Web site — www.brownequalsterrorist.com — crashed his server. Strangers from Chicago and New Zealand offered him space on their servers to get his story back online.

Humiliated, Angry, Ashamed, Brown.

6 Comments:

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anything that a country does, no matter what that act may be, will have good outcomes & bad outcomes. In my humble opinion, I do not have a problem with racial profiling, whether it is called that or not. I feel there is nothing wrong with looking at the present threat, where & who it comes from, & equpping the country to fight it. Obviously, this is an example of where that did not work. But if this happens 5 times, and if the 6th time we discover a plot to blow up buildings, bridges, etc., then I am ALL FOR THAT. And if I personally am searched more at the airports for that, just become my skin is not white, then that is the times we are living in. It may not be fair, but life is not fair. There is a tradeoff for everything, & in my opinion, increasing our odds of catching a terror plot is worth its problems.
-Keith

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger Luke said...

Keith,

Obviously, this is an example of where that did not work. But if this happens 5 times, and if the 6th time we discover a plot to blow up buildings, bridges, etc., then I am ALL FOR THAT.

Couple of points...

1.) Since Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, should law enforcement single out young, white males in airports, etc. (since they're of the same "ethnic profile" as McVeigh and might be equally prone to "incite terrorism")?

2.) If authorities believe that of 100 men who they meet on the streets, one of those persons might murder someone, is it okay for them to jail the whole group (if it means they prevented said murder in the process)? What about randomly stopping these 100 guys to check on their respective frames of mind? After all, a murder could be prevented if the government kept close tabs on everyone, right?

I'm all for law enforcement doing their jobs, but the Bill of Rights extends to all Americans, not just the favored majority. In this particular case, you had federal officials telling this student he was not to come back to this public space without prior permission, that he was not allowed to take photographs of one of Seattle's biggest tourist attractions, and found himself aggressively questioned and intimidated by a group of cops who were probably pushing the bounds of what is legally permissable.

To get the "other side," consider the following report from the ACLU:

There is no reason to believe that a counterterrorism strategy based on ethnic profiling will be any more effective [than one that is not]. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, Middle Easterners and South Asians are hardworking, law-abiding people. Singling them out for special law enforcement scrutiny will produce the same low “hit rates” as has racial profiling in the context of drug law enforcement.

We now have incontrovertible proof that racial profiling does not, in fact, give the police a “leg up” in fighting crime. The premise upon which it is based – that certain ethnic minorities are more likely than whites to be in violation of the law – is simply wrong. Studies consistently show that “hit rates” – the discovery of contraband or evidence of other illegal conduct – among minorities stopped and searched by the police are lower than “hit rates” for whites who are stopped and searched. Indeed, the findings of numerous studies throughout the country have been so consistent that police officials are starting to recognize that racial profiling, while still practiced broadly, is ineffective and should be rejected.

Not long after the 9/11 attacks, a group of senior U.S. intelligence specialists combating terrorism circulated a memo to American law enforcement agents worldwide cautioning against relying on ethnic profiling as a counterterrorism tool. As reported in the Oct. 12 issue of The Boston Globe, “the four-page memo warns that looking for a type of person who fits a profile of a terrorist is not as useful as looking for behavior that might precede another attack.” One of the authors of the memo, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “There are at least a million people of Middle Eastern descent in the U.S. Do we consider them all potential terrorists?” Another explained, “Fundamentally, believing that you can achieve safety by looking at characteristics instead of behaviors is silly. If your goal is preventing attacks...you want your eyes and ears looking for pre-attack behaviors...
"

And although it deals with the Patriot Act, the following editorial from the Ithaca Journal makes a salient point:

Federal investigators certainly need maneuvering room for their investigations of terrorists. Yet caving in to short-term fears by relinquishing civil rights will eventually destroy the long-term civil liberties that have made the United States unique among nations. Terror or no terror, the more power governments have, the more abusive they eventually can become.

Portions of the Patriot Act should be repealed or revised so they do not allow governments to invade the privacy of citizens and curtail other basic civil liberties. Even if today's U.S. government was perfect and entirely composed of honest people who scrupulously adhered to the Bill of Rights, who is to tell what sort of people will assume powerful positions in the future?

Law enforcement and intelligence communities need to exert aggressiveness in fighting terror, but not to the point where their methods make Americans second-class citizens in their own country
.

And I agree.

 
At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are gonna lose my friendship over thi---oh wait, wrong subject. My bad.

Ok, I think some of this is common sense. Of course you agree with....."Law enforcement and intelligence communities need to exert aggressiveness in fighting terror, but not to the point where their methods make Americans second-class citizens in their own country."
That, like so many other things in this world, is incredibly easy to say, but much harder to do. There is no magic line in the sand saying....."This is protecting America vs. This is impinging upon civil liberties." If there was, we would have nothing to banter about, & would instead be forced to study!!

"Looking for behavior that might precede another attack.”
"If your goal is preventing attacks...you want your eyes and ears looking for pre-attack behaviors..."

Now Lucas, knowing you as well as I do, I know that you saw many of the things that the our soldiers found in Afghanistan & other Al-Qaeda locations.
If you remember, we saw several videos of the WTC being "cased" -- photographed, videotaped, etc......to make plans for attack. Now in this case, isn't that pre-attack behavior??

We hear so much in the media about how many signs there were to 9/11, how someone should have put them together. Now, if we could have looked into those people making those tapes, & found traces to their plot, would that have been worth the price? Or if we had looked into flight schools, like many people say we should have, & possibly disturbed some law-abiding citizens to see the terror plot, would that have been worth the price?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you don't look into it, you got families of thousands of people, & millions of observers, saying "Why didn't you protect us?" If you do look into it, & are not 100% accurate about everyone you look into, then the ACLU is coming after you.

And, of course, about good old Olka. City, everyone knows there is no way to stop every crime. But facts are facts, & the people that most want to hurt us (or at least, are so willing to hurt us that we must take incredible precautions) have some key facts in common, and we must be aware of those in protecting ourselves.

I am in no way defending the actions of those cops (although I also must say, every story has 2 sides, we are only hearing the "I was a nice, respectful, innocent student" side). I don't think officers should be disrespectful, demeaning, etc., etc. And in this case, maybe they should have just seen the student ID, and let him go...........wait a second, I believe student IDs and the such are how some people get into this country, and then disappear into our population, only to plan attacks.

If there was an easy line here, there would be no debate. My point is, if you know where one potential, & quite strong, threat is coming from, it is stupid not to look at least a little more carefully in that direction. Just because we have many threats doesn't mean we should say, "We can't stop all of them, so what's the point in fighting any of them?"

There is a very fine line between protection of Americans vs. infringement upon rights. But personally, I would rather be a bit on the overly-cautious side, & have to stop some innocent people (not throw them in jail, mind you, but try to learn their intentions), than later find out we were "fiddling while the city burned"........in hopes of not making any mistakes.
-Keith

 
At 2:22 AM, Blogger Luke said...

Well said, Mr. K.

I honestly believe that both you and I see nearly eye-to-eye on this issue; it's the rhetoric that gets in the way of common understanding. Does law enforcement have a right to question someone acting suspiciously? Of course, and the ACLU isn't out defending everyone who's been wrongfully stopped either. But when race trumps other conditional factors, then a societal -- and potential security -- problem has emerged.

Think of it this way: if cops on the streets are focusing their attention on individuals based primarily on the color of their skin, then they may very well miss the occasional Tim McVeigh, thereby hurting this country's level of protection against a terrorist attack.

So this whole debate basically boils down to this: Does racial profiling help or hurt this country and its citizens?

You say:

But facts are facts, & the people that most want to hurt us (or at least, are so willing to hurt us that we must take incredible precautions) have some key facts in common, and we must be aware of those in protecting ourselves... My point is, if you know where one potential, & quite strong, threat is coming from, it is stupid not to look at least a little more carefully in that direction.

Besides the fact that this statement is xenophobic (we've got plenty of born-and-bred nutjobs here too), it ignores the effectiveness of the practice of racial profiling, its overall societal impacts, and the foundation of the American justice system.

My contention is not that we should be oblivious to our reality, but that racial profiling - by definition - is neither a successful nor just tool for government to use in "combatting terrorism," fighting the "war on drugs," etc. I argue this based on the fact that it's been shown racial profiling does not produce any higher of a success rate for law enforcement officials than if the practice is not being employed. But beyond that consideration, one must realize that if a practice such as this is INSTITUTIONALIZED (i.e., allowed to become "part of the system"), then it creates a negative social stigma (in ways that extend far beyond any one airport or park) for a whole group of completely innocent people as the result of our government's actions. In the long run, you're doing more harm than good.

As Gene Callahan and William Anderson pointed out in Reason Magazine:

These types of investigations have led police from the solid ground of "case probability" to the shifting sands of "class probability" in their quest for probable cause. Once police are operating on the basis of class probability, there is a strong claim that certain groups of people are being denied equal protection under the law.

We could not have any effective law enforcement without allowing some scope for case probability. If your twin brother robs a bank in your hometown, it does not seem to be a civil rights issue if the police stop you on the street for questioning. When the police discover their mistake, they should apologize and make you whole for any damages you have suffered. Such an event, while unfortunate, is simply a byproduct of attempting to enforce laws in a world of error-prone human beings possessing less-than-perfect knowledge. It will be a rare event in law-abiding citizens' lives, and it is highly unlikely that such people will come to feel that they are being targeted.

However, the use of class probability in police investigations is correctly regarded with extreme suspicion, as it violates a basic principle of justice: The legal system should treat all citizens equally, until there is specific, credible evidence that they have committed a crime... The social cost of the alienation produced by this situation cannot, of course, be measured, but common sense tells us that it must be great
.

Many proponents of racial profiling are against the idea of agencies keeping track of data relating to the races of people they question. I think you can agree to abandon statistical knowledge -- for fear it may show racism or other trends we don't like -- is both illogical and dangerous. Unless we analyze the facts and figures, how will we ever know the impact of our actions?

No one is capable of color-blindness; you and I both know that. The question really is one of government policy: as a nation, should we aspire to the Constitution's lofty ideals embodied in the Bill of Rights, or should we pander to an anxious culture's wish to assign blame and cast suspicion on a group of people as American as you or I? Those in Washington set the tone for the rest of the country; my belief is we would all be best served if they chose the courage to do what is right over a baseless and misguided fear.

 
At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We could not have any effective law enforcement without allowing some scope for case probability....

This is all I was basically saying, that race has to be somewhat of a factor, not THE factor, but a factor none-the-less, in our war on terror. As you said to me yourself in our discussion, there is no doubt that things such as race, body language, clothing, facial hair, etc. all factor in to determining the suspicious nature of a person. Of course it is more important to look at the actual actions of a person, rather than simply their skin color. But overall, everything must be given some role, & it is, as each of us makes "gut-decisions" on things and people everyday.

I guess the only thing left is how much stock to put into each of these factors. And that, obviously, is up to the person who has to make the call. While suspicious behaviors should no doubt be the primary way we try to identify potential terrorists on our streets, no one can deny that there are many other factors that have roles in our judgements. Not only is this a fact of life, sometimes it is a necessary practice, at least when taken along with the many other factors in each circumstance.

Thank you for allowing the forum for this debate, Luke. It is clear that we agree on most of these points; the hardest part of any of this, like anything else, is putting theory into practice.
-Keith

 
At 4:23 PM, Blogger Luke said...

Having just watched Ken Jennings dominate his competition on 'Jeopardy!' once again, I feel perhaps we should review this topic by phrasing it in the form of a few questions.

When you look at someone, do you notice that person's skin color? I think most people would say yes.

Should a 'brown person' automatically be under any more suspicion than a 'white person' when walking through a park or an airport? I don't think he or she should be, because there is no due cause to presume someone is any more likely to commit a crime on the sole basis of skin color.

In practice though, does some degree of racial profiling occur on a day-to-day basis? Of course it does, as it's a natural tendency of humans to be suspicious of things that "look different."

But does this make the practice right? More importantly, in terms of the law, is racial profiling even Constitutional?

Elaine Cassel notes in this Counterpunch article that:

The Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures, and is supposed to give us the right to be secure in our homes and persons, unless a search warrant [is] issued... [as well as] the right not to be detained unreasonably.

The Fifth Amendment gives us due process of law -- the right not to be arrested except upon probable cause, [as well as] the right against self-incrimination.

The Fourteenth Amendment applies all of the first 10 Amendments to the states, meaning, in this context, state law enforcement officers
.

Some would argue that being brown is probable cause. I disagree. You see, the ideas enshrined in the Bill of Rights are basic principles of our government and society. Throwing them out the window is very dangerous, especially if you're attempting to restrict the People's liberties. This issue reminds me of the old saying:

"In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me - and by that time no one was left to speak up." --Pastor Martin Niemoller, Dachau, 1944

So my main concern is with any government which attempts to impose "classifications" upon groups of people as a matter of POLICY. Mistakes will be made by individuals; we should try to stem these from occuring and officers should apologize when in error. But getting to the root of the issue, I believe Benjamin Franklin said it best:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

 

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