Unraveling the Threads of Violence Against Hoodies and Hijabs
-Sid Brown & RAF
Current events indicate that we in the U.S. live in a climate where hijabs and hoodies are deemed as threatening. The late February murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida has ignited international outrage. The 17-year-old Martin was guilty of nothing but being a young, black man walking in his father’s upscale neighborhood and wearing the “suspicious” hoodie. Martin’s killer has yet to be charged for the murder due to a Florida law that permits him to use the argument of self-defense.
Just a week ago in California, Shaima Al Awadi was taken off life support after she was found by her daughter to be brutally beaten unconscious in their home. Al Awadi was an Iraqi-born Muslim woman who wore the traditional headscarf. At the scene, beside her body was a note similar to the one anonymously delivered to the family a month ago: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” No suspect has been arrested for the crime. While each incident deserves individual attention, and justice must be fought for each victim, they are not isolated incidents. Some may say these events are simply acts by depraved and racist individuals, but they speak to a larger issue plaguing our society.
Surprisingly, the mainstream media has not failed to follow these two cases, especially that of Trayvon Martin. Perhaps this is because of the mass uprising on the streets and in social media networks. In their interpretation of the stories, however, there is something missing. What is missing (really, the elephant in the room) is the state-sanctioned violence and racial profiling that galvanizes racist vigilantes. It is not hijabs and hoodies (and let us not forget turbans, or dastars, worn by Sikhs) that ignorantly demarcate one a “terrorist,” a “criminal,” or a “delinquent”; it is the black and brown skin they cover. When the state encourages individuals to report “suspicious” activity and leads investigations that unfairly target these populations, such as the FBI monitoring Muslims in Newark, NJ and New York City or the prevalence of young Black and Latino males who are stopped and frisked by the NYPD, they encourage vigilante justice—a justice that desires to carry out the state’s objectives. Looking back at U.S. history, how else could white supremacists justify organizing lynch mobs to hang African Americans after the abandonment of Reconstruction and throughout decades of legal racial segregation? The police turned a blind eye whenever lynching happened, not stopping the lynchers nor preventing the bloodthirsty crowds from gathering to watch the murder unfold.
What must be made clear is that such acts of violence by the hands of civilians would not occur had the state not been at war with predominantly Muslim nations, where civilian deaths go nearly ignored. It doesn’t help that the media, which works hand in hand with the state, has made “Muslim” synonymous with “terrorist” and “un-American” in post 9/11 America. Further, these acts would not occur had the state not been at war with Black and Latino people, as the disproportionate rates at which African Americans and Latinos fill prison cells can attest to. This is largely due to the enforcement of the War on Drugs that racially profiles them.
After the huge response to Martin’s murder, some cried: What about police brutality such as the recent murder of Ramarley Graham in the Bronx? Graham, like Martin, was a young, black man who was unarmed but was shot by police in his grandmother’s apartment as he tried to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet. Again, these are not isolated incidents from one another. The media tried to detract attention from Martin as the victim by claiming that he was only in his father’s town after he was suspended from school for carrying marijuana. Both he and Graham were painted as criminals because of their marijuana possession, but even if they were breaking the law, they should not have been murdered. (There is also an argument to be had about whether marijuana should be illegal in the first place, but we are focusing on the injustice of murders.) In Graham’s case, any white teen would have been let off the hook with no more than a slap on the wrist. There would have been mass outrage had a white teen been beaten for possession, much less murdered. No, neither’s crime was drug use—it was being Black. Similarly, Al Awadi was targeted for being a Brown, hijab-wearing, Muslim woman.
The public outcry over Martin and Al Awadi’s cases should be seized as an opportunity to encourage discussion of the xenophobic, white supremacist actions of the government and criminal justice system, which prompt individuals to commit such heinous crimes. The state may proclaim, “Do as we say and not as we do” all it wants, but we just can’t let it get off that easily. We should know better.
The most important thing that people should learn is that these cases come from systemic, not individual or abnormal, issues. The more the state—in this case, the politicians and the police—calls these “isolated incidents,” the more we must push back and demand a structural analysis with structural changes. We cannot take racist ideas and internalize them. We cannot accept their terms of “justice.” We need to rethink what justice means, not accept what the white supremacist, patriarchal, war-loving USA tells us it means.
Justice happens when we support victims of police brutality and vigilante violence. Justice happens when we do not think in simple terms of who is “innocent” or “guilty”—people are more complicated than good or evil, but they do not deserve to be murdered or brutally beaten because of petty crimes, or no crime at all.
Here are some thoughts on concrete solutions, big and small:
- We have to end white supremacy in all its forms. That means ending the violence against people of color, white privilege, economic privilege of white and light-skinned people, racist stereotypes, and erasure of what really happened to Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow peoples in this country and abroad.
- We have to end the belief that this was ever a “good” country founded on “good” ideas. USA was built by white men with land and reserved genocide, slavery, and rape for everybody else. It was never good. It continues to dominate people of color at home and abroad to this very day.
- We need to rethink who is a criminal and who is undeserving of rights. Being Muslim, poor, a person of color, a woman, a queer, or an addict should not mean arbitrary punishment. It should mean we get our due for the years of oppression that we and our ancestors have faced. It should mean that we are no longer oppressed because of who we are, or in the case of the addict, it should mean we get treatment for our disease.
- We need to hold the police accountable for murdering anyone, especially when the victims are disproportionately Black or Brown.
- We need to tear down this justice system and build a new system that redresses past wrongs and aspires to be fair and humanizing to all who have been oppressed.