Fighting Terrorism at Home

Or so MA Gov. Deval Patrick equates responding to the discovery of nooses within the MBTA (one employee wearing one for Halloween, and a noose found in a subway car by a black carman). Good for him. That’s the aggressive language that municipalities and officials should be using to describe these homegrown acts of racial violence, these hate crimes, including the agnostics at the federal Dept. of Justice who promise to act when “the facts and the law warrant” them to do so. (Duh.)

Based on data compiled from 70% of all police authorities nationwide, the FBI reports that hate crimes increased 8% in 2006. While race-related incidents in the precincts reporting fell about 2% from 2005, they comprise 52% of all reported events. 58% of all offenders are white, and one-third of the incidents occur near or at home. (Sleep well!)

In related event, this past weekend thousands of African-Americans marched at the Justice Dept. to protest the racial (and economic) inequality in the criminal justice system.

The Justice Department said yesterday that it is committed to prosecuting civil rights cases.

“The Justice Department shares with those who demonstrate today their objective of bringing to justice those who commit criminal acts of hate,” Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said in a statement.

“It shares their vision of eradicating hate in our society,” said Mukasey, who was sworn in as attorney general this week.

Clearly one strategy the Administration has to realize that vision is to shift our hatred to those outside our society. Furthermore, perhaps we should give the new AG some time to get caught up on DOJ’s actual record of fighting hate crimes under Bush & Co. From a June 2007 NYT piece:

In recent years, the Bush administration has recast the federal government’s role in civil rights by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the traditional area of race. [Changes include:]

¶Taking on far fewer hate crimes and cases in which local law enforcement officers may have violated someone’s civil rights. The resources for these traditional cases have instead been used to investigate trafficking cases, typically involving foreign women used in the sex trade, a favored issue of the religious right.

¶Sharply reducing the complex lawsuits that challenge voting plans that might dilute the strength of black voters. The department initiated only one such case through the early part of this year, compared with eight in a comparable period in the Clinton administration.

Along with its changed civil rights mission, the department has also tried to overhaul the roster of government lawyers who deal with civil rights. The agency has transferred or demoted some experienced civil rights litigators while bringing in lawyers, including graduates of religious-affiliated law schools and some people vocal about their faith, who favor the new priorities. That has created some unease, with some career lawyers disdainfully referring to the newcomers as “holy hires.�

Here’s some accompanying data on the decline of civil rights enforcement under Bush from Syracuse U., c. 2003. Sure looks like a record worth defending, don’t you think? Glad Mukasey’s wasting no time in toeing the party line.

In contrast, here’s a little on our governor from his official bio:

In 1994, President Clinton appointed Patrick Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, the nation’s top civil rights post. At the Justice Department, Patrick worked on a wide range of issues, including prosecution of hate crimes and abortion clinic violence, employment discrimination, and enforcement of fair lending laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

During his tenure, Patrick led the largest criminal investigation prior to September 11th, coordinating state, local and federal agencies to investigate church burnings throughout the South in the mid-1990s.

“Prior to September 11th.” Remember those good old days? When we elected Gore and had a budget surplus and declining poverty rates and a booming economy? Before we attacked Iraq for no legitimate reason and mortgaged ourselves off to China and watched poverty levels climb again and hadn’t yet failed to deliver on our promises to rebuild a historic, irreplaceable black American city? Before we all dusted off the white, patriarchal national costume of the American flag and cloaked ourselves in it once more, to the point where U.S. bridge players have been called traitors and threatened with silence for publicly declaring that they did not vote for George Bush during a recent overseas competition. Now we’re just getting silly. (Though the folks at Shakesville do the mocking so much better than me; click through, you’ll see)

But it isn’t silly. And history-making African-American Gov. Patrick has the chance to follow through on his claims to fighting the terrorism of nooses and other hate crimes in Massachusetts. If the city of Boston’s current minority-majority population contrasted with its legacy of black-Irish antipathy is any indication of larger shifts in the state, Patrick, his team, and his constituents, me included, must acknowledge the real histories of our ethno-racial conflict as we simultaneously dispel the related myths that constrain our ability to act collectively towards a more equitable and less hostile future. This requires a painful relinquishment of privilege, sanctimony, victimization, and entitlement from all of us, and a redistribution of power among the lot of us – not to mention a zero tolerance policy for, strict sanctions against, and some sustained education and activism about the history of the noose as a terrorist act in U.S. history.


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