Creating a ‘domestic terrorism’ charge would actually hurt communities of color
The Washington Post
August 26, 2019

“In the wake of the horrific mass murder this month in El Paso, in which a gunman killed 22 people and wounded dozens of others, Americans have understandably sought ways to prevent such tragedies. In particular, some have called for making “domestic terrorism” a chargeable offense. As former federal civil rights prosecutors, we don’t believe that we need new laws. We just need to stop discriminating in the resourcing and enforcing of the laws we have.”

“We already have powerful tools for prosecuting hate crimes — criminal offenses motivated by bias toward an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The first federal hate crime law was passed in 1871 to address the Reconstruction-era racial terrorism experienced by African Americans, including  lynchings. These laws have  evolved over time. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded existing laws to protect a broader range of threatened communities.”

“On the other hand, domestic terrorism (unlike international terrorism) is not a chargeable offense. It never has been, nor does it need to be. Such a law is unnecessary and would be harmful to communities of color.”

“The USA Patriot Act defines “domestic terrorism” as an act that occurs primarily within the United States that is dangerous to human life and is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. That term is used for purposes of investigation only.”

“Unfortunately, however, in an inherently biased criminal-justice system, the concept of domestic terrorism has long been used in discriminatory and harmful manners. In the post-9/11 world, the counterterrorism framework targeted and discriminated against Arab Americans, American Muslims and South Asian Americans. This securitized frame of engagement with specific communities sent a false message that Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans somehow warranted suspicion. Anincrease in  hate crimes against members of these communities soon followed.”

“Historically, federal law enforcement agencies have used this kind of framing to target not only those who commit acts of violence but also those who advocate social and racial justice — including the FBI’s covert operations against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and, five decades later, its creation of the term “black identity extremists” to target those protesting excessive force used by police.”

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