Touré Neblett, host of MSNBC’s The Cycle, wrote an excellent piece about Kimani Gray, the 16-year-old Brooklyn teen shot dead by the NYPD last weekend for adjusting his waistband “suspiciously”. Police say they were forced to shoot because Gray pointed a gun at them, a claim witnesses dispute. Protests have since erupted every night in Gray’s East Flatbush neighborhood, highlighting the pent up frustration of routine police violence in communities of color.
Touré rightly points out that the encounter between Gray and the officers who killed him “is part of the culture of stop-and-frisk where young black men are treated as suspicious until proven not.” I couldn’t agree more and I’m thrilled to see someone with such a wide audience talk about it.
That being said, I can’t help but notice the hypocrisy in Touré’s position on extrajudicial killings. Given his vehement condemnation of the brutal force dished out to young black men by police in the United States, you would think he’d similarly denounce targeted killings abroad. Instead, he has shown himself to be an ardent defender of President Obama’s self-proclaimed authority to assassinate suspected terrorists without due process or a shred of evidence, a program that terrorizes poor brown communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, much like domestic policing terrorizes black communities here at home.
Last month, here is what Touré had to say about criticism of the leaked Justice Department white paper that revealed the administration’s legal rationale for killing Americans abroad without due process, much of which was wrapped in the same rhetoric employed to justify racist policing practices:
We’re at war with al Qaeda right now, and if you join al Qaeda, you lose the right to be an American. You lose the right to due process. You declare yourself an enemy of this nation, and you are committing treason. And I don’t see why we should expand American rights to people who want to kill Americans, who are working to kill Americans, who are committing treason. This is not criticizing the United States. This is going to war against the United States.
Touré later defended himself against criticism and doubled down, saying, “I wonder if some in this nation are getting a little soft when they are defending the civil liberties of al Qaeda members…People hiding in ungovernable tribal areas who still pose a threat must be dealt with.”
Let’s pretend for a moment that this isn’t identical to conservative arguments made during the Bush years and focus instead on how closely Touré’s justification resembles the attitude this nation has towards gangs and drugs in black communities.
Keep in mind that Obama’s kill policy doesn’t provide any specifics about what constitutes being a terrorist. That judgment is based on the decree of top officials who need not present any evidence.
Ready for a thought experiment? Here is a slightly altered version of Touré’s argument. Notice I’ve replaced “al Qaeda” with “gangs/drugs”:
We’re at war with drugs right now, and if you join a gang, you lose the right to due process. You declare yourself an enemy of this nation. And I don’t see why we should expand rights to gang members who want to kill for drugs. This is going to war against the United States.”
“I wonder if some in this nation are getting a little soft when they are defending the civil liberties of gang members.
Obviously, all black men are not gang members. Nevertheless, the American public, including people of color, are largely conditioned to view black men as inherently dangerous criminals, making them the targets of the decades long war on drugs. The same goes for middle eastern Muslim men, who are seen as potential terrorists prepared at any moment to blow up innocent Americans, making them the targets of our nation’s war on terror. (Seriously, how many more inanimate objects are we going to declare war on before we figure out how dumb this is?)
To Touré’s credit, he did express regret over the killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in a US airstrike in 2011 just two weeks after his father, suspected al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed (both father and son were American citizens). Still, he justified the teen’s killing, pointing to unsubstantiated US government claims that Abdulrahman was standing too close to Ibrahim al-Banna, another suspected al Qaeda official. Had Touré done his homework, he would have learned that reports after the attack suggested al-Banna was still alive. (Even if this were the case, would Touré tolerate the police killing of an innocent black child because s/he was standing too close to an alleged gang member?)
Compare that to Touré’s piece on Kimani Gray, where he writes, “They’re not just marching for [Kimani Gray], they’re…marching in pain for all the Black men and boys killed by police who assumed they were criminals, guilty until proven dead.” Yet, for all the suspected terrorists targeted by the Obama administration, “guilty until proven dead” is perfectly acceptable.
This is more than just hypocrisy. Falguni Sheth calls it a “racial double standard” that “assumes brown/black foreigners shouldn’t receive the same benefit of the doubt about their guilt that is regularly given to other Americans.”
The same racial double standard is exemplified by the deep American indifference to the fact that the subjects of targeted killings, kill lists, no-fly lists, preemptive detentions, and FBI-led entrapments are almost always brown and black foreign nationals, despite the murkiness of the reasons for which the U.S. designates someone a terrorist.
Some might argue that it’s impossible for Touré to exhibit racial indifference because he is nonwhite. That’s a nice thought, but Touré offers a compelling argument against this notion in his piece on Kimani Gray:
Soon you’ll hear a lot about how the cops in this case were black and Hispanic, which means it’s not racial–but we know that’s not true. We have a way of criminalizing black boys and those biases infect both blacks and whites.
That Touré and others like him are incapable of connecting the treatment of people of color abroad (military occupation) to that of communities of color at home (police occupation) is truly remarkable.