Uncategorized / Veronica Agard

1984 in 2012 (Veronica Agard)

Flickr Creative Commons // katesheets

Every time one turns on the news here in the United States, there is some new “doom and gloom” story — a tragedy somewhere that traditional media outlets will not allow you to forget. Not to take away from any loss of life, especially when it is untimely, but this constant negativity that is reported on from the newsroom and newspapers takes its toll. Arguably, this could be why so many amongst the younger generations use the Internet, cell phone applications (“apps”) and other forms of social media to get the news they want, when they want it. There is a constant strive to break away from the culture of fear that has the media entranced. It is the control and usage of technology that is a prevalent dilemma in today’s society when it comes to privacy and security rights.

More than ten years later, one could argue that we are still living in an hyper-active and fearful post-9/11 culture. It appears that many who practice the religion of Islam or appear to be similar to the stereotype of Muslims or persons of Arab descent are subject to harassment, shame or even violence. Throughout history, particularly in the United States, when times are hard, the masses often time look for someone to blame. In the aftermath of World War I, it was the Italians and the Germans, during World War II it was the Japanese and Chinese and during the Cold War it was anyone who attempted to go against the capitalist status quo or was of Eastern European descent. All of these unfortunate scapegoats were sought out based on their appearance and beliefs. This is a part of history that the powers that be may want to sweep under the rug, but not only did it happen in the past — it is still happening today.

One of the largest controversies of the Obama Administration to date is the National Defense Authorization Act. Back in December, President Barack Obama signed the NDAA into effect, authorizing $662 billion to fund the research and actions that were to come from its signage into law. Even in the present recession, this was not what the average person had an issue with. The problem lies in Title X, Subtitle D, titled “Counter-Terrorism,” and the specific sub-sections 1021 and 1022. In this part of the act, essentially anyone who is suspected of being a terrorist can be held indefinitely — that is, the politically correct way of saying “locking someone up and throwing away the key.” This can set the stage for individual citizens to take action themselves by attempting to liken them to government precedents like the Patriot Act and the NDAA.

A couple recent examples of profiling turning into tragedies and unjust actions are the stories of Ramarley Graham and Trayvon Martin. Though they lived thousands of miles apart, their stories will still tug at your emotions. Ramarley Graham of New York City was an unarmed African-American teen who was shot and killed in his own home by two plain-clothes New York City Police officers in front of his younger brother and grandmother. Trayvon Martin is the South Florida teen, also African-American, who was murdered by a “Neighborhood Watch” member named George Zimmerman. Apparently, Zimmerman was scared by the hoodie-wearing teen, and despite being told by 911 operators not to; fought and ended the young man’s life. The local district attorney’s office recently charged and arrested Zimmerman for second-degree murder, so there is a sense that the public opinion and outrage helped the local law enforcement make an efficient decision.  It goes without saying that in the case of Ramarley Graham, the infringement of constitutional rights is blatant. And even with the “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida, Zimmerman could have found another solution to detain Martin without taking his life.

The “Neighborhood Watch” groups are not alone in taking matters into their own hands, as the NYPD has been busy as well. One of the greatest cities in the world is far from immune; people of African-American and Latino/Hispanic descent have to constantly be on alert in New York City. The current policy of the New York City Police Department, called “Stop and Frisk” has been around for a while now, and seems to be doing a lot more harm than good. “In 2011, 685,724 New Yorkers were stopped by the police, 605,328 were totally innocent (88 percent).” That alone, along with the other statistics put forth by organizations like the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and others should logically be enough to cause the NYPD to change their Big-Brother-like practices. When news broke about the NYPD monitoring cities in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie pointed out that this was nothing new, saying “The NYPD has at times developed a reputation of asking forgiveness rather than permission.” Yet Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Mike Bloomberg seemed to justify and defend the orders they carried out, including the surveillance scandal. While there is a body of evidence proving that the NYPD was spying on Muslim organizations as far away as Buffalo, New York, crossing jurisdiction by keeping tabs on groups in New Jersey, and even watching New York City colleges such as  the City College of New York, no immediate change has come.

A constant thread in all of these instances is the issue of Due Process under the 14th Amendment. What happens if you get locked up for a stupid Facebook comment about the President or some other elected official? A concern of the NDAA is that it picks up where the Patriot Act left off, and kicks the door wide open for the courts and other institutions to effectively silence anyone that goes against them. What happens to an African-American youth like Trayvon Martin who comes across someone like George Zimmerman? The “One Million Hoodie” Marches that are happening across the country and the national outcry are seeking justice, and are pleased to see the local officials in Central Florida formally hold Zimmerman accountable for the taking of a life that was only just beginning. What happens to the African-American or Hispanic male who gets stopped and illegally frisked, or killed like Ramarley Graham for no good reason? The NYPD seem to be using alternative statistics to their favor and ignoring what is obvious to everyone else, which could prove to be a horrible mistake on several levels, but particularly in an election year. What will happen to the Muslim organizations, students and people throughout the Eastern Seaboard that were watched for months? Once again the NYPD has to do something beyond projecting the blame elsewhere.

In making these connections, I hope that it raises awareness on the entangling alliances that exist due to being kept in suspended fear. Of course, there’s a chance that I may be criticized for drawing these conclusions. Writing on behalf of the victims of hyper-surveillance and the realization of Orwellian tactics conducted by those who are supposed to protect and serve us is a necessary statement either way. It is my firm belief that this is another epic violation of human rights, since it is usually the hegemonic brain washing that pacifies the masses into not taking a stand and becoming compliant. As movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Justice for Ramarley Graham and Million Hoodie Marches for Trayvon Martin continue, I truly hope that this becomes the new norm. Because presently, somewhere in England, George Orwell is rolling over in his grave shouting “I told you so!

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