26 July, 2014 / Ramazan 27, 1435

The unraveling blindfold of justice

Published Mar 31, 2012 06:10pm

-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/Dawn.com

Oftentimes when I draw correlations between the US and Pakistan, some readers find the comparison illogical considering the vast divide of resources and democratic history between the two countries. However, some stories over the past month in the US illuminate the fact that despite having functioning democratic institutions, racism and injustice still pervades in America’s society. The acquittal of a white terrorist group and the case of Trayvon Martin demonstrate how America continues to struggle with its racist past and present.

In 2010, the Justice Department indicted members of a white anti-government organisation called Hutaree, whose ideals and methods mirror many terrorist groups in Pakistan. The members claimed that they were warriors for God, who were sent to wage a war against the government, which was controlled by the “Anti-Christ”. They claimed all local and federal police officers were being controlled by the demon, and so they planned on killing officers. The Justice Department reported:

The indictment also alleges that the Hutaree planned to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack the law enforcement officers who would gather in Michigan for the funeral….with improvised explosive devices with explosively formed projectiles.

This group possessed more weapons and bomb materials than any terrorist cell found in the nation to date. The members of the group were charged with sedition, as well as several other weapons crimes, but were acquitted of most charges by a federal district court judge. The judge ordered the immediate release of the individuals, stating that the prosecutors had not proven that they were a threat to society.

This seems to mirror Pakistan’s justice system, where terrorist groups are arrested by police only to be released by judges based on a lack of evidence or mistakes by the prosecutor. However, one should remember that, unlike Pakistan, the US government is not in the habit of acquitting terrorist suspects; as such, if the suspects were Islamic extremists rather than white, they would have been subject to a completely different justice system.

If Hutaree were an Islamic organisation with any ideological connection to al Queda, they would have been tried by a military tribunal as required by the National Defense Authorisation Act of 2011, rather than being tried by a civilian judge. The standards of proof and the presumption of innocence are far different between a civilian judge and a military tribunal. This is why a defendant is more likely to be released due to deficiencies in the prosecutor’s case by a civilian judge, rather than a military tribunal.

While it is important for all criminal suspects to be afforded the right to a civilian hearing, the inequality of justice in the US shines through with the Hutaree case. Both Islamic and white terrorists pose the same threat to average citizens and have the same twisted ideologies to back up their murderous plans, yet, they are treated differently by the justice system according to race.

The other major story of racial inequality in the US is about the recent murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a member of his gated community because he looked “suspicious.” The facts are not clear, but it seems that the young black man was guilty of wearing a sweatshirt and running to his parents’ home when he was shot dead by George Zimmerman. The murder of a young African American teen is unfortunately not a new occurrence in America, nor is racial profiling, but the lack of punishment for Trayvon’s murder sparked outrage amongst minority communities. This inspired students from my alma mater, Howard University, to start an online campaign entitled “Am I Suspicious?” asking for justice in Trayvon’s case.

There are several laws that protect minorities from hate crimes and levy heavier punishments for murders that were racially/ethnically motivated. However, many have pointed to the racial inequality of the justice system, where the murder of a black teen can go unpunished, but the same would not happen if the victim had been white. Others claim that the police were justified in failing to prosecute Zimmerman, as he was supposedly acting in self defense when he murdered the teen.

Until there are eyewitnesses who can accurately describe what occurred, we might never know what happened that night. But, what we do know is that in a nation as rich and dedicated to ‘global justice’ as America, a black child was killed and his killer roams free. New Orleans rapper, Souljah Slim, best explains this situation with the following rhyme,

“Black man kill a black man, it's cool they lovin dat / Black man kill a white man & the sentencin' him to death / White man kill a black man then scream about self defense / Break it down to manslaughter wit all of the evidence.”

One of the organisers of the online protest movement to prosecute Trayvon’s killer is a fellow graduate from Howard University, Kevin Cunningham. Mr. Cunningham explains that the US is still experiencing blowback from the era of slavery and the Civil War. He explains that the US is now experiencing a Racial Cold War where “the culture of criminalisation of black people and black youths in particular can be connected back in time to these efforts to undermine the ultimate settlement of the 'Civil War.’”

He states that this historical anti-black rhetoric is now being used against Muslim Americans, subjecting them to abuse without practical protection from the government. This underlying anti-Islamic sentiment amongst Americans often manifests in ugly ways, such as the case of Shaima Alawadi, who was mercilessly beaten to death last week in California because she was an Iraqi-American wearing a hijab. The young mother was killed, and an anti Islamic note was left next to her corpse.

While the justice system seems marred by latent racism in the society, America’s civil society can prove to be acutely aware of these problems and is often willing to take action to call for change. Civil organisers like Mr. Cunningham are certainly not common, but provide an example of young leaders willing to organise a public call for change in the justice system. As such, Aslan Media has started an online campaign called Hoodies and Hijabs, which raises awareness about violence against minorities in the US.

The system of justice in the US is far from perfect, and sometimes the world is able to view the latent racism that affects the execution of the law. It is especially important for young democracies with heterogamous populations, like Pakistan, to note these instances as proof that the problems of racism will not be solved even after 250 years of democracy. Rather, the process of achieving social equality is a never-ending one that requires the constant vigilance of both the society and the legal system.

The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (11) (Closed)


Cynical
Mar 31, 2012 06:14pm
You have proved beyond a shade of doubt that, 'America=Pakistan". Hope the rest of the world understand.
Anwer
Mar 31, 2012 10:14pm
Well in Pakistan's case our Justice system needs a video footage of each crime committed by terrorists. A slapping incident can win Chief Justice attentions but unfortunately hundreds killed in sectarian and other target killings murderers get acquitted as benefit of doubt.........
Syed A. Zafar USA
Mar 31, 2012 11:23pm
Dear Mr. Husain, Your honest and sense making point of view is commendable. Thank you. I do not know whether in the future you will be able to maintain the quality and purity of your thoughts as you do now. Because I have seen many writers changing/contradicting themselves for the sake of fame and fortune. But, so far, you appear excellent. The world, and especially the people of Pakistan and its media is in desperate need of pure and courageous writers like you. Although, I almost gave up on Daily Dawn of Pakistan, because of some of its writer's partiality, imported views and mind set on issues. But I have to congratulate its management for at least having a few honest and sensible writers like you. This is an excellent piece. I agree with you 100%. Thank you. Allah karay zore-qalam aur ziadah (May God bless you more with the power of pen). However there is a great need to write more on this subject, especially when it comes to the practices of the current judiciary of Pakistan. Zameer-e-insaan agar sadaa day, toe sadaaqatein aankhein kholtee hain, qasre insaaf bhee goonjtaa hai, aur qalam bhee haathon mein boltaa hai" (it takes conscience) zafarsyed40@yahoo.com
Mustafa
Apr 01, 2012 03:18am
The isolated cases that the author mentioned to tarnish justice system in America, is a tine fraction in a country of over 300 Million people. If America indeed hated Muslims, Islam would not be the second largest religion in America after Christianity and progressing by leaps and bounds. In America there is no fear to Shias, Ahmadis and many minority groups and even Muslim women to walk freely in streets.
El Cid
Apr 01, 2012 12:11pm
There is terrifying anti-muslim and anti-Islam sentiment in the American mind - media, society and culture. Those on the outside cannot imagine it...those of us on the inside but genetically lucky NOT to be able to be identified as a hate object can observe this absolute horror at close hand...
Ronnie Dsouza
Apr 01, 2012 09:49pm
Well said, Mr. Mustafa, but it is hard to digest this reality for others who like to bash the west.
Khan
Apr 01, 2012 11:13pm
You have discussed scattered cases in USA, what about in Pakistan where thousands of people have been killed on different counts. Do you think that Pakistan will ever be like USA even after 250 years. I don’t think so that such countries like Pakistan could be survived with the present embroilment and corrupt leaders. Please don’t say that Pakistan cannot be like USA, as Pakistan is a Muslim Country. Unfortunately Pakistani leadership is inhumane and brutal.
Mohammad Ali Khan
Apr 02, 2012 04:51am
I wish the Muslims will speak up to the ills in their societies.Why is there so much apathy in Muslim societies to the fanaticism which exists all around them?
Ronnie
Apr 02, 2012 12:18pm
Rightly said so, Mr. Mustafa, hard to digest for some people.
Cyrus Howell
Apr 06, 2012 01:49pm
For those interested in the American Federal Justice System I recommend the book THE GRAND JURY: The Use and Abuse of Political Power, by Leroy D. Clark (a Black lawyer). Murder cases, and most criminal cases are tried in the state courts. Most civil rights law suits have more to do with the police, than the courts. In the case of Trayvon Martin he was shot to death by a private security contractor (a citizen), and not law enforcement. As for Indian and Pakistani views on race relations, I don't see any South Asians in America living in predominantly African American neighborhoods, but in the suburbs. They vote with their feet. Most are familiar with The Miranda Warning advising criminals of their constitutional rights during arrests (watching Law and Order, and other police dramas on TV). The Miranda Warning is actually the result of three Federal Court of Appeals cases, not just one. For those interested, look on Wikipedia for: (a) Miranda v. Arizona (b) Escobedo v. Illinois (c) Gideon v. Wainwright (US Supreme Court decision)
Cyrus Howell
Apr 06, 2012 02:01pm
"It isn't what you know, it's what you can prove." Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) in the film Training Day.