Arab-Americans from across the country are going to Washington this month to call on members of Congress and the Obama administration to end racial profiling.
This has been a priority in the Arab-American community for a long time, but recent news makes it more pressing than ever.
Our call is twofold: First, Congress must pass the End Racial Profiling Act, which would ban profiling based on race. Second, the Justice Department must revise its guidelines to provide protection based on religion and national origin and to close gaping loopholes that ostensibly exist in the name of national security.
These changes would be a small step in the right direction at a time when our nation needs a reason to feel confident in our institutions.
Americans are reeling over the death of the 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin and the refusal of local police in Florida to investigate his shooting by an armed neighborhood watchman. In a less-publicized incident in southern California, Iraqi immigrant Shaima Alwadi was beaten to death in her home. The Alwadi family reportedly received a threatening note before Shaima’s death, and her assailant left a message that read: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
It’s clear from such cases that prejudice and narrow-mindedness remain very real problems in the United States.
At the same time, law-enforcement agencies are practicing racial, ethnic and religious profiling. Media reports in recent months have revealed that the New York Police Department has been spying on Muslim-Americans throughout the Northeast, mapping religious institutions, restaurants, cafes, and bookstores, and infiltrating community groups and Muslim student organizations, despite the fact that there was no criminal activity or leads to warrant this surveillance. The Associated Press recently reported that the FBI was also looking at the everyday lives and activities of people simply because they were Muslim.
Such practices send a strong signal that singling out people based on race, religion and national origin are OK. That’s why we must work together to demand accountability and justice not only toward the individuals and criminals whose attitudes translate into violence but also from the institutions and politicians who set the tone for such a mindset.
We need to stop racial profiling now.
Nadia Tonova is director of the National Network for Arab American Communities, a group of 23 grassroots Arab-American organizations in 11 states and Washington, D.C. NNAAC is based in Dearborn, Mich. Tonova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.