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NYC becomes one more city criminalizing Muslim youth and communities

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio flipped his finger at the ACLU, and more than 20 other human rights, civil liberties, and feminist organizations yesterday when he announced at the United Nations that New York City will join a global network of cities instituting race and religion-based surveillance under the banner of “Countering Violent Extremism.” This is terrifying.

The 21 organizations sent the mayor’s office a letter on Sept. 21 urging de Blasio to reconsider joining the federal surveillance program that ignores the what-should-be-obvious reality that white men are more deadly to America than anyone else — and instead chooses to further criminalize Muslim communities.

Here’s a quick round-up of the shitty and violent ways the Counter Violent Extremism program does this:

It expands the school-to-prison pipeline that already targets brown and black kids. CVE has tranformed the relationship between Muslim kids and schools and social service providers into security-based engagements and tasked “teachers and social workers to identify students who they believe are at risk of violent extremism.” As the ACLU wrote last week, schools should be environments where curiosity, inquiry, and intellectual discourse thrive. I can’t say I care much for President Obama tweeting about Ahmed and his clock when the White House is the reason students like him are seen as suspects and their clock-making is considered a bomb threats.

It is so obviously racist. The President, the U.S. Attorney General, and city mayors all love to brand the program as all-inclusive, and suggest that objects of their surveillance will include people that aren’t just brown and black. The reality is that it’s been more than a year since CVE pilot programs were launched in Boston, Minneapolis, and LA, and each and every one targets Muslim youth and their communities alone.

It doesn’t work — that is, it ignores actual violence. White people are the biggest terror threat in this country. White dudes with grudges. White cops with guns. White supremacists trying to take down the government. Three fourths of law enforcement agencies in America list right-wing extremists as their biggest threat. This program ignores all of them. (For God’s sake, the White House convened a CVE summit just days after two Muslim women were murdered for wearing the hijab in Chapel Hill).

It is incredibly silly. Linda Sarsour, resident badass activist and head of the Arab American Association of New York, pointed to the “criteria” the NYPD uses to identity terror threats. The behaviors that raise suspicion — at least when Muslim youth do them — include: “giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes; wearing traditional Islamic clothing, growing a beard; becoming involved in social activism and community issues.” I don’t know how to describe this as anything but silly.

Danielle Jefferis wrote over at the ACLU last week that “religious-based suspicion masquerading as counterterrorism has no place in America.” I agree. Unfortunately, the largest city in the US adopting CVE is one more sign that the America we might envision and the one in reality are two very different things.

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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