Tuesday, June 30, 2015

US failure to protect Charleston church victims of racist massacre

In this age of mass surveillance in the United States in an effort to preempt acts of terror like that meted out against the congregation of the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, it is hard to believe that the wide net of surveillance cast both online and offline by US law enforcement missed the perpetrator of the atrocity despite eye-popping red flags.

On 17 June 2015 an alleged "white supremacist" gunned down nine people - six women and three men - at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, a historical church linked to the civil rights movement. The nine victims of the massacre - all African Americans - reportedly sat in church with the perpetrator, Dylann Roof, 21, in a bible study group and prayer meeting for an hour before the massacre.

Worthy of note that the perpetrator who, according to his childhood friend, wanted segregation between whites and blacks was known by law enforcement and had been previously arrested - besides having a racist manifesto online threatening violence. According to the BBC, he drew the attention of the police at a shopping mall in February when he walked into the mall all dressed in black and asked strange questions to shop employees. He was found to be carrying a drug without prescription and was arrested and charged for drug possession. He was also banned from the mall but was arrested for trespassing at the same mall two months later.

Dylann Roof had a racist manifesto online - which according to the New York Times reveals that the case of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager killed in Florida in 2012 triggered his racist rage. The nearly 2,500-word manifesto, which was discovered on a website criticized blacks as being inferior. "I have no choice," the manifesto reads. "I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me." 

According to the New York Times the website was first published in February - four months before the rampage - under the killer's name, Dylann Roof. The New York Times reports that the Charleston Police Department and the FBI were  aware of the website and are "taking steps to verify the authenticity" of the postings on the website, which features a photo of Dylann Roof posing with a handgun and the confederate flag.

His roommate reportedly told ABC News  that he (Roof) planned the massacre for months.

My view

Mindful of the numerous red flags, Dylann Roof should have been stopped before the attack. Just two weeks before the church attack, a certain 26-year-old Usaama Rahim who was under surveillance was followed by a police officer and an FBI agent and killed in Boston. According to the BBC, Usaama Rahim was under 24-hour surveillance because he was considered a threat to the public. It is inconceivable why Roof wasn't considered a threat to the public and placed under surveillance as well. Roof posed a threat to public and he made no secret about it but he was not followed around. Perhaps his planned massacre was not considered serious enough to earn him a place in the controversial surveillance program. Or perhaps US law enforcement does not consider racist hate crime against African Americans a crime worth dedicating resources to abort.

I refuse to believe that law enforcement was not aware of what Dylann Roof could do. Someone in law enforcement somewhere must have read the racist manifesto in which he "chose Charleston" for his " white fight". The plan was out in the open. Someone must have spotted it and decided not to act against it.

If Dylann Roof  fitted the racist profile of what many people in society consider, wrongly of course, nowadays to be  a terrorist: non-white and Muslim, he should have been stopped. He should have been placed under surveillance and approached by a Charleston police officer and maybe an FBI agent at the Emanuel AME church on that fateful night - in the same way law enforcement officers approached suspected terrorist Usaama Rahim in Boston.

I share the view that it is important to call the Charleston attack "terrorism". The perpetrator's motive was to attack the historic African American church, kill African Americans and strike terror into the hearts of  survivors and African Americans in general. Officials and some in the media chose to call it a "hate crime". Others called it a "tragedy", but in my view it is terrorism. All acts of terror are technically hate crimes.

Dylann Roof should have been put on a watch list and followed closely like other terrorists before him. The nine victims of the Charleston church attack add to the long list of victims of America's senseless gun laws and a law enforcement system tainted by racism. If Dylann Roof was not white and blond chances are someone in US law enforcement would have paid closer attention to his whereabouts and activities.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Forced sterilization of Africans in Finland: a racist suggestion

Finland is by no means Nazi-Germany but there are politicians in the Nordic country who, if given a chance, would gladly implement policies and practices that are reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's reign in Germany. One of such politicians is a member of the populist True Finns Party who suggested that African immigrants should be forcibly sterilized.

On Tuesday 27 May 2015, Olli Sademies, a reserve councilor for the Finns Party in Helsinki suggested in a Facebook status update that African men in Finland should be forcibly sterilized so as to curb what he thinks is a high birth rate among immigrants. According to Yle, the politician suggested that the number of children born by immigrants should be limited to a maximum of three, and that in order to limit birth rate, African men should be forcibly sterilized.

Yle reports that the leader of the group of Finns Party councilors in Helsinki condemned the remarks and described the Facebook update as "fascism" and "completely mad." The party's secretary said reserve councilor Sademies' comments are not the party's.

My view

Although Olli Sademies is an obscure politician who, according to Yle received only 462 votes in the parliamentary elections in spring this year and did not make it to parliament, his despicable view on how immigrants should be treated must be taken seriously. Adolf Hitler, an epitome of man's inhumanity to man, was once obscure before his rise to power where they implemented horrific policies, including forced sterilization of people deemed "abnormal", and the extermination of Jews and people from other minority groups. It is therefore important to nip in the bud dangerous views expressed by politicians irrespective of the amount of power they wield at any point in their political career.

The Finns Party "distanced itself" from the racist statement, but distancing itself from the statement is not enough. The party, which already has a reputation as xenophobic, populist, anti-immigration and anti-EU, must do more to get rid of individuals who hold and express horrendous views in its ranks - if the party truly does not share the views or does not benefit from such utterances that seem to energize its base.

It is not a coincidence that many, if not most, racist political scandals in Finland are linked to the Finns Party: from Teuvo Hakkarainen who used the n-word to refer to Africans on his first day in parliament, to Helena Eronen who suggested that foreigners should be forced to wear armbands in order to ease identification by the police, and to James Hirvisaari and  Jussi Halla-aho who were convicted by Finnish courts for inciting hatred against an ethnic group. The Finns Party clearly attracts people with racist, xenophobic views. It will take more than slaps on the wrists of offenders and political statements by the party's leaders to clean up the party's sullied reputation.

People of African descent around the world are constantly on the receiving end of racism, discrimination and abusive policies - sometimes sanctioned by state institutions. According to the World Health Organization, in some countries, people belonging to certain certain population groups, including ethnic minorities continue to be sterilized without their full, free and informed consent. Israel for instance admitted in 2013 that it covertly sterilized Eritrean Jews without their consent. Although forced sterilization is required for transgenders in Finland, the inhumane practice is unlikely to be extended to people of African descent or any other minority group without their consent. However, Africans must be vigilant, especially when a politician starts floating the despicable idea around. There is a negative precedent as in the case of Israel.

Of course, the suggestion that Africans have too many children even after moving to Finland is not true. A report by Helsingin Sanomat revealed that immigrants' birth rate falls upon arrival in Finland and is not very different from the birth rate of ethnic Finns. Hence it is both racist and uninformed to suggest that African migrants should be sterilized because they continue to reproduce at the same rate after moving to Finland.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Netanyahu late on racism in Israel

Violence or any form of attack or discrimination against an Israeli often meets massive public outcry, wide media coverage and accusations of antisemitism. But minorities in Israel, including Israelis of African descent face discrimination and racist abuse, including police brutality with little or no outcry or strong condemnation by Israel's ruling elite or members of the public.

Thousands of Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin took the streets in the centre of Tel Aviv to protest against racism against black Israelis in Israel. The anti-racism protest, according to Reuters, was sparked by a video showing two Israeli policemen punching and beating a black Israeli soldier. Prime Minister Netanyahu met the soldier who was assaulted by the police, and said he was "shocked" by the incident. According to The Jerusalem Post the Prime Minister's office announced after a meeting between government officials and members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community that a plan to deal with the problems facing the community will be brought to the new government.

While the incident involving the police brutality incident acted like a catalyst for protests, it worthy to note that cases and reports of racism and discrimination against minorities in Israel are abound and span many years. Many people around the world are familiar with reports of discrimination against Arabs in Israel -- stock in a system that many people like the Guardian's award-winning Middle East correspondent Chris McGreal say bears resemblance to apartheid in South Africa. But the plight of black Israelis - predominantly from Ethiopia - isn't as widely covered and discussed like the plight of Arabs, although Israelis of African descent struggle with "deep-seated" race problems in Israeli society.

Over the years, politicians in Israel, including Prime Minister Nathanyahu have played the race card in an attempt to win votes. Most notably, on the day of Israel's election which took place March 17, 2015, Natanyahu said "Arab voters are coming out in droves" to vote in a bid to inspire Jewish voters. Now, pause for a second and imagine what would happen if a world leader somewhere says that "Jewish voters are coming out in droves" in a bid to energize his base.

Israeli officials confirmed in the 1990s that they threw away blood donated by Ethiopian Israelis out of fear that it could be infected with HIV and other diseases. In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said refugees, whom he referred to as "illegal infiltrators flooding the country", threaten the identity of the Jewish state. In 2013, Israel admitted that it sterilized Ethiopian Jewish women without their consent. The aforementioned are all offensive instances where people were targeted because of their race or colour of their skin.

Another Israeli politician in the name of Eli Yishai who served in Netanyahu's government once called for mass arrest, imprisonment and deportation of all African migrants on trumped up claims that they are all criminals.

My View

It is a good thing that Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have come to senses and has taken a stand against racism suffered by black Israelis. Meeting the Isaeli soldier who was beaten by police, and convening a meeting between representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community and top government officials were all moves in the right direction. But expressing "shock" over blatant racism against black Israelis is not enough. The Prime Minster should also take steps to redress despicable discrimination and inequality against Palestinians and Arabs in Israel. Racism in Israel goes beyond the Ethiopian- Israeli community.

Natanyahu must take responsibility for the spread of racism in his country. His well-documented comments about Arabs and African migrants sent a wrong to the majority Israeli population that minorities, including Arabs and people of African descent pose an identity threat to the Jewish state. His irresponsible comments incited racism and hatred in Israeli society hence he should not be "shocked" by the outcome.

The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new-found commitment to "fix Israeli society" after anti-racism protest in Tel Aviv is welcomed. Concrete steps must be taken to curb latent racism and discrimination against Israel's ethnic minorities, Jews and non-Jews. Words won't be enough. Concrete steps should include the Prime Minster and other politicians and government officials refraining from making comments that fuel racial, ethnic and religious hatred against minority groups.

Minority groups in Israel on their part should continue to demand equal treatment. Where there's silence injustice thrives. They should continue to speak up and protest if need be, peacefully of course. Violence should be avoided and condemned by both protesters and security forces responding to protests.

Israel often tries, in vain of course, to justify discrimination and segregation within its borders by pointing to security concerns and the threat of terrorism. But the punching and beating of an Israeli soldier of African descent by Israeli policemen clearly had nothing to do with national security or fending off terror. It had everything to do with deep-seated racism in Israeli society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's impressive reaction to the incident was long overdue. The Prime Minister has been part of the problem for years by fostering an atmosphere of "us and them."

Mindful of the fact that people who condemn Israel's actions in one way or the other run the risk of being dubbed antisemitic or accused of incitement against Jews, it's worthy to highlight in closing that I am not antisemitic. I merely oppose domination and oppression of one by another, Jew or non-Jew, black, coloured, white or whatever, Christian or non-Christian, Muslim or non-Muslim.


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