Sniping Common Sense: Racial Profiling, Religious Bigotry and the DC Shootings

A lot of folks are probably thanking Allah for a simple name change right about now. After all, if John Williams hadn’t decided to become John Muhammad, those right-wing pundits who have been proclaiming a likely Muslim terrorist link with the recent sniper shootings would have sure looked stupid.

In truth of course they still do — after all, there is nothing to link Muhammad or his teen companion to any terrorist group — but at least being named for the Prophet allows commentators to continue playing their favorite tune as of late: namely, that you have to be on the lookout for people who are named, well, Muhammad. Or immigrants like the 17-year old Jamaican national traveling with Muhammad, who by virtue of his status as a foreigner will serve to inspire the fortress America crowd to once again raise the chorus of “close the borders.”

Indeed the two apparent perpetrators of these grisly crimes couldn’t be better suited for the blowhards who hold forth on talk radio and 24 hour news television: they’re black, one is in the country without a Visa, and one claims to have worked security detail for the Nation of Islam during the Million Man March. I guess it would be distracting to point out that John Muhammad was taught how to kill people not by Louis Farrakhan and not by Osama bin Laden, but rather by the United States Army, in which he served for nine years.

It is nothing short of amazing to hear what the right is saying about these shootings. According to Dan Flynn, Director of Accuracy in Academia, the sniper killings can be blamed on the anti-American sentiment of the Hollywood Left: a “polluted fountain” from which Muhammad and Malvo drank “at some point.” I guess I never realized how big Woody Harrelson and Barbara Streisand were in the Caribbean, and I must have missed the news report that Muhammad had adorned his former Tacoma apartment with Alec Baldwin posters.

Right-wing website proclaims that Muhammad was inspired to violence by Farrakhan, who according to NewsMax is a prominent “leftist.” This will no doubt come as news to actual leftists, most of whom don’t glorify capitalism (as does Farrakhan), nor adhere to strict and tendentious theology as the basis for their beliefs.

To conservative superstar and gasbag Bill O’Reilly, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is to blame, for allowing Malvo to wander around the country for ten months illegally. That Muhammad appears to have been the mastermind behind the killing spree and hardly needed a partner to engage in such violence never occurs to O’Reilly. Nor does he bother himself with the simple fact that immigrants (legal and illegal) actually have lower rates of violent crime, on average, than American citizens. To O’Reilly, a tragedy such as this involving an immigrant is one more reason to crack down on immigration altogether. One can only wonder what he would have said if the shooters had been white guys? Perhaps that white men should be kicked out of the country? Don’t count on it.

And speaking of the racial angle, conservatives are also up in arms over what they perceive as “reverse racial profiling” in this case. David Horowitz offers that, “everyone in the country had the snipers profiled. They were militiamen, crackers. White males are the only group it is acceptable to profile. Well guess what? They are anti-American, anti-white, Muslim blacks.” Others have complained that authorities were so busy looking for white men, that they overlooked other possibilities, even failing to search the real shooters’ car when they were stopped at police checkpoints.

But in truth, the primary reason the suspects weren’t searched wasn’t because they were the “wrong color,” but because their vehicle was. Remember, they were in a blue Chevy Caprice, not the white truck or van that had been identified at multiple crime scenes.

And to imply that white men were being profiled in this case flies in the face of the evidence. After all, the only persons actually taken into custody prior to the ultimate arrest of Muhammad and Malvo were Latinos. Likewise, for weeks the public had been treated to one after another description of “olive-skinned” looking suspects, perhaps Middle Eastern (of course) or Hispanic. Indeed, on the first full day of the killing spree, CNN helicopter footage showed a black male, handcuffed for questioning in the vicinity of the latest killing.

So if indeed law enforcement was thinking that the shooters might have been white males — which would have been a reasonable assumption since the vast majority of serial killers and homicidal snipers have been just that — they certainly didn’t proceed to harass or detain white males as a result. Even when white males do fit a profile (as in the case of mass murderers, spree killers and serial killers), we don’t get treated the same way that people of color do when they are thought to fit one. I doubt that the white males of Montgomery County, for example, really worried about being looked at like murderers every time they went out in public. Would that Arabs and dark-skinned Muslims could say the same.

And who is Horowitz to criticize racial profiling anyway? After all, he has previously written that profiling of black men is completely valid since black men have higher crime rates than other demographic groups. Even though most crimes are committed by whites, the differences in crime rates justify, to Horowitz’s way of thinking, generalized suspicion and differential treatment of African American males. By which logic, the D.C. area police should have profiled white men since they are in fact the ones who are most likely to engage in this specific kind of homicide. One cannot give one’s blessing to racial profiling in one case and then condemn it in another. If anything, it appears as though this tragedy would only underscore the absurdity of racial profiling in general, whomever the targets might be.

As for Horowitz’s claim that the suspects are anti-white, as with most things he says, there is no evidence to sustain the charge. Of the thirteen persons shot by the snipers, at least four were people of color, indicating that these crimes were hardly related to anti-white bias. Though Mr. Horowitz might think it sufficient evidence of anti-white hatred that Muhammad attended the Million Man March, a review of the statements made at the March reveals little in the way of anti-white sentiment, and quite a bit in terms of the need for blacks to stop violence against one another. In either case, Muhammad wasn’t listening very closely, as at least three of his shooting victims were black men: hardly a Farrakhanesque thing to do. Malvo, of course, was ten years old and in Jamaica when the march happened, and had likely never so much as eaten an NOI bean pie, let alone attended a Nation event.

Indeed, Muhammad’s faith seems to be fairly tangential to these crimes, as there is nothing about the killings that fits the pattern of religiously-inspired violence. The randomness, the claims by the killer to actually be God, the demand for money, the lack of any written evidence as to such a motive (the kind that was found in the unchecked luggage of Mohammed Atta after 9/11 for example), all point to a decided lack of focused zeal on the part of these shooters.

That commentators might wish to place these killings in a nice neat package labeled “Muslim extremism,” does not mean that they should be allowed to do so absent any supporting evidence. It is simply a truism that if the shooters had turned out to be white Christians (like every last one of the known abortion clinic bombers or arsonists in the last decade or so), none of those proclaiming these crimes to be evidence of religious or political evil would have believed such a thing to be the case. Apparently they kill people because their religion is violent, their cultures are violent, and they hate America; while we only kill people because we’re sick, or got dropped on our heads, or watched too much TV.

For a bunch who gets bent out of shape whenever liberals seek to blame shootings on gun shows (a claim that is indeed simplistic and silly), the right has no problem digging up their own scapegoats: Muslims, immigrants, blacks. But (and with apologies to the NRA), perhaps they should remember that Muslims don’t snipe people, former soldiers snipe people.

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