From Minneapolis to Chicago this week, thousands of Americans are marching to demand justice in the police shootings of two young black men, 24-year-old Jamar Clark and 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Despite the fact that fatal shootings at the hands of U.S. police far outnumber American deaths at the hands of terrorists, right-wing politicians in the U.S. are focused solely on the specter of Muslim fundamentalism in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.
No one embodies this blatant hypocrisy better than Donald Trump. At a recent rally in Birmingham, Ala., Trump’s supporters viciously beat an African-American man named Mercutio Southall while screaming racist epithets at him. Southall later described police refusal to intervene, except to stop him from defending himself against his attackers. Trump justified Southall’s beating on television, saying, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”
Trump also recently tweeted a set of crime statistics falsely claiming that 81 percent of white Americans are killed by blacks. In reality, 82 percent of whites are killed by whites, but Trump stood firm, saying it was merely a “retweet” and that he couldn’t be expected to fact-check everything.
Meanwhile, jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon in the wake of the Paris attacks, Trump made a wild claim that he saw reports of thousands of Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheering the fall of the twin towers in New York City on 9/11. Even when confronted with solid evidence to the contrary, Trump continued to insist he was right.
Trump’s growing support among right-wing Americans is an indication of how popular it is to believe an easily disproved lie: that blacks and Muslims are the perpetrators of terror, rather than victims of it. His dissemination of racist propaganda and his policy positions echo the ugly rhetoric of Nazi Germany. Demonstrating his clearly low opinion of Muslim Americans, he endorsed the idea of registering them in some kind of database, saying, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it.”
The right-wing businessman’s candidacy has decidedly pulled many of his Republican rivals more sharply to the right, even as the very real victimization of African-Americans and Muslim Americans is receiving scant attention.
In the case of police killings of African-Americans, there is so much disproportionate targeting of that community that hardly a week goes by without a new story emerging. And there is tremendous resistance to bringing perpetrators to justice. In Chicago, it took a city whistleblower and the determination of reporter Jamie Kalven to achieve the public release of video evidence of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times last year. Hours before the horrific video was released Tuesday, Van Dyke was finally charged with first-degree murder.
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In Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter and the NAACP have been organizing marches for weeks over the killing of Jamar Clark, a young African-American man who, according to some witnesses, may have been handcuffed when he was shot in the head by police. Activism over the conduct of Minneapolis police has been so widespread that on Nov. 16, law enforcement arrested more than 50 protesters. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter organizers apparently warned police of threats made against them by white supremacists, but those threats were not taken seriously. It was only after five people were shot at a Black Lives Matter rally Monday that police arrested three young white suspects in their 20s.
Imagine if it had been three young Muslim men arrested in connection with shooting into a crowd. The howling accusations of “terrorism” would have sounded before the ink dried on their arrest warrants.
In fact, Muslims have faced a steady stream of prejudice and hate crimes since the Paris attacks. A running list on The Huffington Post includes three instances of Arab and Muslim passengers being removed from flights before takeoff for no apparent reason other than fear and suspicion of their language and heritage. Syrian refugees are being heavily demonized, despite the fact that none of the Paris attackers was either Syrian or a refugee. Even the U.S. policy to accept a paltry 10,000 refugees out of millions of displaced Syrians is facing a heavy backlash from Republican presidential hopefuls and state governors. Those among the 1,800 refugees who have already received asylum are feeling the chilling impact of demonization. As this author put it, “Arab Americans ... fear [Islamic State], and the white supremacists who think they are [Islamic State].”
The U.S. has a sordid history that includes not just slavery and genocide but also the routine lynching of African-Americans, the unjust internment of Japanese-Americans and the rejection of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. If politicians like Trump and his cohorts are allowed to dominate our modern discourse, the outcome will only fuel more racism and injustice and doom us to repeat the past.
Truth is the best antidote to the disease of white supremacy. Asked about the growing sentiment against Syrian refugees in an interview on MSNBC, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings admitted, “I am more fearful of large gatherings of white men that come into schools, theaters and shoot people up, but we don’t isolate young white men on this issue.”
As U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also astutely reflected, “We’ve had individual crazy people; normally, they look more like me than they look like Middle Easterners. They are generally white males, who have shot up people in movie theaters and schools. Those are terrorist attacks; they’re just different kinds of terrorists.”
Perhaps Southall, survivor of the beating at Trump’s rally, said it best when he shared his opinion of the candidate with ThinkProgress: “The things that he’s been saying about black people, Latino people, immigrants, refugees—we felt it was very disrespectful ... this man came to our city [Birmingham, Ala.], a couple of weeks before Christmas, saying we should not let in Middle Eastern refugees. If I’m not mistaken, I think Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee. So we were not going to stand idly by and see the rise of the next Hitler.”