Friday, April 19, 2013

Here's a Novel Concept: Don't Blame Any More Victims.

On Wednesday, Ammar Harris had his day in court here in Nevada. He's charged with murder in the Las Vegas Strip shooting and car crash this past Feburary. After weeks of fighting extradition from California, Harris was finally brought back to Nevada to go to trial.

Now remember, Ammar Harris is on trial for murder. Yet in the first week after the shooting, some were quick to point fingers at Kenneth Cherry, one of the VICTIMS in that attack. "Oh, but he was a pimp. He was a gangster. He was asking for it!" We heard excuses for Cherry's untimely death, and it forced his family to step forward to remind everyone that he was a slain victim, not a criminal.

What made this case even more poignant was that it was happening around the time of the one year anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. There, George Zimmerman claimed he shot Trayvon Martin dead because he looked "threatening". He was walking home while carrying a bag of Skittles & a bottle of iced tea when Zimmerman shot him dead.

Even though Trayvon Martin was the victim, he posthumously faced allegations of criminal wrongdoing. A Florida police chief even used Trayvon's photo for "target practice". And remember, he was killed for wearing a hoodie while walking home with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.

Yesterday, Trayvon Martin's parents sent a special message to the parents of Martin Richard, the 8 year old boy who was killed in the Boston Marathon Attack on Monday. He was watching his father finish the marathon when he was caught in the bomb blast.

The parents of Trayvon Martin, the teen shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012, have sent a message to the family of the 8-year-old boy who was killed in the Boston Marathon explosions.

Martin Richard, 8, was pictured on Facebook holding a peace sign created in response to a lesson by his teacher about the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, which prompted the parents of Trayvon Martin to send a special message to the family of Martin Richard.

The statement released on Tuesday reads as follows:

"Our hearts are broken over the tragedy in Boston yesterday. Our family sends our sincerest condolences to all of those who have been affected by this terrible situation. We especially would like to send a message to the family of eight year old, Martin Richard. We have come to understand that the peace sign that Martin is holding in a photo being circulated throughout the media, was created in response to a lesson by his teacher about the death of our son. From our family to yours', we are praying for you, thinking about you and will remember your son for the rest of our lives."

This moved me to tears when I first read it this morning. Sadly, so did this. After facing a full media swarm descend upon his house, Ruslan Tsarni strongly condemned his nephews for their likely role in the Boston Marathon Attack.

Apparently, I wasn't alone. Joan Walsh was thinking about the same thing. It's the dark underbelly of American culture that always emerges after a tragedy like this one.

Tsarni’s rant wasn’t exactly what law enforcement might have advised: A soothing person giving young Dzhokhar a reason to come out of his hiding place alive,and to cooperate with officials in revealing whether there may be more hidden bombs as well as what his and his late brother Tamerlan’s motives were.

But it was a window on an ancient American story: the anguish of immigrants when one of their own becomes notorious, and shames not only his family, but his entire ethnic group.

“He put a shame on the Tsarni family. He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity,” the uncle raged. “It has nothing to do with Chechnya.” To reporters questions, he answered: “We’re Muslims, we’re ethnic Chechens,” and he went on: “Of course we’re ashamed. They’re children of my brother. Who had little influence of them.” [...]

Tsarni’s anguished press conference (video below) was a live, televised twist on an old American narrative: an immigrant struggling not to have his people defined by the bad behavior of one of the group. Generations of American immigrants not only Americanized their names to seem less foreign; they cringed whenever one of their group “shamed” them with notorious criminal behavior.

Irish Americans ashamed of the poverty, destitution and sometimes notorious behavior of famine Irish refugees in the mid-19th century dropped the “Mc” or the “O” from their names. Even as a second generation Irish Catholic on Long Island in the 1960s and ’70s, I was schooled in not seeming “shanty Irish,” which mainly involved not yelling out the window at friends or my family, not serving food directly from the pot to the table, and keeping my fingernails clean. Our Italian neighbors shuddered at the high-profile Mafia escapades of the era. [...]

The rabid anti-Muslim prejudice in the U.S. since 9/11 provides new reasons for any Muslim who finds a family member accused of a crime. Tsarni expressed solidarity with the families of Boston bombing victims. “We’re sharing them with their grief. I’m ready to just bend in front of them, kneel in front of them, seeking their forgiveness, in the name of the family.”

I'll add that this isn't even limited to immigrants. As mentioned above, the families of Trayvon Martin and Kenneth Cherry have had to clear their names in the media... Despite the fact that they were the victims!

Still, this has allowed the "tea party" to throw a giant, xenophobic monkey wrench into the pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in Congress. Following Reps. Steve King's (R-Iowa) & Louie Gohmert's (R-Texas) respective nonsensical & unhinged attempts to tie the Boston Attack to the Gang of 8 CIR bill, fellow "tea party" icon Ann Coulter chimed in with another insensitive, nonsensical, and unhinged rant. This has even forced Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) to beg his fellow Republicans not to engage in any more mindless speculation that only results in more xenophobia and more trouble. Unfortunately for Rubio, his request seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) raised the topic early in the hearing, which was supposed to feature Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano before she was forced to cancel her appearance due to the ongoing response to the attack.

"Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system," Grassley said, according to the Huffington Post. "While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the sponsors of the immigration bill, said that he will work with DHS on any immigration issues that emerge from the bombing. But he warned that his colleagues should not rush to tie it to reform legislation given the lack of available information.

"I'd like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding events in Boston or conflate those events with this legislation," Schumer said. "In general, we're a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their fingerprints, photos, etcetera, conducted background checks ... Two days ago, as you may recall, there was widespread erroneous reports of arrests being made. This just emphasizes how important it is to allow the actual facts to come out before jumping to any conclusions."

Actually, we know the two named suspects had been living in America for over a decade. And the one who was shot dead this morning had become a permanent legal resident in 2007. But of course, that won't stop the "tea party" from trying to take advantage of this tragedy and (mis)use it to shoot down comprehensive immigration reform.

And herein lies the problem. We're all too often to react to tragedy with prejudice, and that prejudice only serves to hamper efforts to recover. We saw this earlier in the week as some "internet detectives" and media sensationalists were falsely accusing people of Monday's attack. But now that we know the names of two suspects (and one of them has already sided in a shootout with police), the same media senationalists are already jumping to wrong conclusions again as family members of the suspects have had to issue condemnations to quell any backlash against Muslims and ethnic Chechens.

Certainly, it looks increasingly like these suspects committed a very heinous crime and hurt many innocent people. However, their uncle and aunt are not to blame. Neither are other Chechen Americans living peacefully in this country. And neither are the many Muslim Americans who live peacefully in this country, just like the rest of us.

Yet again, a vicious cycle of bigotry and xenophobia is playing out. We can only hope enough people speak against this nonsense and debunk the madness before it causes any more problems. Haven't we seen enough victims hurt this week?

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