Arrest of “Jihad Jane” Adds Fuel to Fight Against Racial Profiling
By: Houston Criminal Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
Leonard Pitts is an excellent columnist. He recently wrote a piece about Colleen LaRose, the Pennsylvania housewife turned Islamic jihadist, whose arrest made it abundantly clear why airport security is not only necessary but essential. Whether conscious or not, most Americans believe “terrorists” can be easily profiled by their physical appearance,” unusual” accents, the clothes they wear, or the facial hair they sport. “Terrorists” are not white, blond, and mainstream in dress and mannerisms. American media has convinced us that real terrorists are either bearded Arabs or dark-skinned Africans who dress like Muslims.
If Timothy McVeigh taught us anything, it should be that individuals willing to inflict mass casualties on Americans in the name of “government opposition” come in all sizes, stripes, and colors. The arrest of LaRose, dubbed “Jihad Jane” by either the media or law enforcement officials, reinforces the McVeigh lesson. A blond, green-eyed former Texas teenager, LaRose would not have triggered much, if any, interest from fellow passengers had she boarded an airliner for any destination in America with bomb-making material concealed somewhere on her body or in her possessions.
Collen LaRose and her counterpart, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez who was arrested several days after LaRose in connection with an international terror plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who offended many Muslims world-wide with his cartoons, are the very reason why all Americans must undergo strict security checks and monitoring before boarding airliners in this country and why there should be no “profile” for terrorists. As Mr. Pitts wrote in his column:
“[The LaRose arrest] ought to serve as a rebuke to the guy standing in the airport security line grumbling at how the TSA agent is running his wand over some dewy-eyed grandmother who obviously isn’t a threat. Even more, it should rebuke pundits like Cal Thomas, Ann Coulter, and Kathleen Parker, who, in the wake of 9/11 argued for ethnic profiling in airport security. Pat down swarthy, bearded young men with Middle Eastern accents and exotic headgear, they said, and leave the rest of us alone.
“Jihad Jane is the reason that’s a dumb idea. She is, according to published reports and photos, 4 feet 11 inches tall, with pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes. She is literally, a citizen of Main Street, USA, having made her home on that thoroughfare in a Philadelphia suburb in Pennsburg, where she was a caretaker to her boyfriend’s father. Until, that is, she disappeared, along with her boyfriend’s passport, which she allegedly intended to give to her terrorist finance.”
What Mr. Pitts is saying is that we all have become “potential terrorist” to airport screeners and government investigators. There is no safe harbor from suspicion. Could the guy next door always saying unkind things about America be a radical jihadist? Or could a troubled young mother, like Paulin-Ramirez, who doesn’t attend church and has nasty things to say about Christians at the neighborhood Laundromat support Al Qaeda? Or, could that “dewy-eyed grandmother” who has become disillusioned because her “American dream” was destroyed by American banks actually become a terrorist?
Terror is a devastating weapon for those bent on destroying Democratic societies because it invokes fear and produces widespread paranoia that eats away at the underpinnings of free thinking, freedom-loving people and seduces them into giving up their individual rights.
Transportation Safety Administration personnel responsible for airport security know this fear all too well. They live with a daily gnawing fear that they will miss the real terrorist carrying some device that could bring down an airliner and send all its passengers to a fiery death. Many Americans now live in a media and government fueled hysteria, like survivors of a bloody school campus shooting rampage. We never know when or where some disgruntled employee will appear at work with an AK-47 and kill a half dozen co-workers, or when some angry citizen will snap because his home was foreclosed on and he decides to fly a stolen plane into a bank building.
The inherent problem with fear and paranoia is that they slowly manufacture individual anger and collective social distrust, justified or not. Bitter political divisions borne from the 1992 election of Bill Clinton as President certainly planted the foul seeds of “conservative” social unrest in this country that have spread like poison ivy after the election of our first black president. But, it was the advent of terrorism on our soil with McVeigh’s 1996 Oklahoma City bombing and the terror attacks in 2001 on New York City’s Twin Towers that burrowed distrust into our collective psyche causing us to suspect any and every one, especially if they are different from us.
The aftermath of this nation’s 2001 declaration of “war on terror” has consumed our respect for civil liberties and left our abiding love for constitutional rights in tatters. This harsh reality was evidenced recently in a sharp exchange between U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Rep. John Culberson, D-Tex, during a congressional hearing dealing with the divisive issue of whether “suspected terrorists” should be treated as criminal defendants, who should be tried in civilian courts as suggested by Attorney General Holder, or treated as “enemy combatants” who should undergo “enhanced interrogation” techniques and be tried before military tribunals, as favored by Rep. Culberson. The two public officials acted like spoiled school boys on a elementary playground as they quibbled over semantics about the degree of “rights” suspected terrorists should enjoy.
A nation so divided by legal-ease and double-speak that cannot legally and politically reconcile the differences between a criminal defendant and an enemy combatant cannot hope to find a honest and effective approach to stem the spread of terrorism.
The bottom line is that Americans have lost their ability to context, to discern the huge difference between the exception and the rule. One terrible sex offender commits a horrible attack on a vulnerable young girl and we immediately rush to judgment calling for every sex offender to be removed from society forever. One person kills dozens with an illegal assault weapon and we rush to judgment calling for the outlawing all legal weapons. In effect, we have become so afraid and angry that we judge and punish the non-threatening majority with the same zeal that we judge and punish the threatening exception to the rule.
Criminal defense attorneys in many respects must face this harsh reality every time they sit beside an defendant charged with a sex offense, a “terror-related” plot or any other unpopular or heinous crime. They know their client will not be “tried on the merits” but is presumed guilty because of the charge that has been brought them before the court. The attorneys can only hope they will be able to select an impartial jury from a pool of people infected with all sorts of personal biases and preconceived notions—and this difficult task must be undertaken in a judicial environment not tolerant of the attorneys’ efforts to detect the biases and prejudices in prospective jurors. As tragic as it may be, criminal defense attorneys must face the reality that an increasing number of defendants are being convicted more on the basis of individual juror biases than the merits of the evidence presented during the trial. This is one of the primary reasons we see so many individuals wrongly accused, convicted and imprisoned, only to be exonerated by the latest technology after sometimes decades in prison. Unfortunately, these poor souls fit some preconceived profile created by the prejudices and biases of the jurors that even a skilled attorney, lack of evidence and reasonable doubt was unable to overcome.
That we have all now become potential jihadists inevitably impacts every segment of our society from the school room to the court room. Several years ago Neo-Nazi “skinheads” sported a popular tattoo that said, “kill ‘em all and let God sort it out.” The constant threat of terrorism, whether foreign borne or home grown, has prompted too many in mainstream America to accept the same kind of nihilistic attitude towards those they fear and hate.
So the next time you’re in a major airport pressed to catch an “on time” flight and you curse the TSA screener for carefully passing the wand over the “dewy-eyed grandmother” (as Mr. Pitts called her), don’t get upset with the inconvenience of the process. We all created it. There is no exception to the rule anymore. We are the rule and that means each of us could be a potential “Jihad Jane” or “Jihad Joe” to those with the responsibility of detecting terrorists. Until hypocritical government policies, complicit foreign regimes and religious fanatics have been exposed for there selfish, power seeking motives, the root causes of terrorism will continue to spread into other, and until now, uninfected populations. So, just get use to it and get to the airport early.
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair