Leonard M. Baynes, Racial Profiling, September 11th and the Media: a Critical Race Theory Analysis, 2 Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal 1 (Winter 2002)(407 Footnotes Omitted)
“With law enforcement agencies focused on the threat from Middle Easterners, intelligence officials believe that the ‘next face of this is not going to be an Arab face, but possibly Indonesian, Filipino, a Malaysian face or even African,’ one senior official said. ‘They understand the security profile we are operating on.”’
For many Americans, the world was turned upside down by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the period leading up to the attacks, the United States had become smug and complacent in international affairs, and the American public was withdrawn from world affairs. The news media only provided minimal coverage of foreign news, and President George W. Bush became president, even though he famously floundered in response to a series of questions about foreign leaders.
Before September 11th, the United States was not accustomed to having wars fought on its own soil and having civilians put in jeopardy. Americans had been taught that the United States' distance from the war-zone battlefields and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans naturally protected the country. Unfortunately, that belief was elementary and wrong. The terrorist attacks on September 11th represented the first time a foreign adversary attacked the United States mainland since the War of 1812. The most recent attack on American soil had occurred at Hawaii's Pearl Harbor during World War II. Until September 11th, these events seemed far away, involving our then-distant possession of Hawaii and targeting our military forces, not civilians. American confidence was bolstered by the fact that the United States had “won” the Cold War without being attacked on our shores.
On September 11th, Americans were confronted with how terrorism had gone global. The United States fights today's wars with advanced technologies such as precision bombs, yet the terrorists who attacked the United States used conventional methods in unconventional ways. In doing so they overcame American military superiority. They enrolled in American flight schools to train themselves, and used American planes as guided missiles. It was as if the terrorists were trying to cripple the United States in one fell swoop. One plane attempted to take out the United States militarily by attacking the Pentagon; two planes destroyed the World Trade Center Towers in an attempt to cripple the United States' financial capability. If not for Todd Beamer and others on Flight 93, the hijackers might have taken out the United States' seat of government; it is speculated that the plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania was headed either for the White House or the United States Capitol.
The United States has become much less complacent since September 11th. Americans were outraged with the terrorist attacks, and that outrage was magnified by the fact that Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the attacks, is not a traditional adversary--he is not the leader of another superpower or even another country. Although he has reportedly operated from bases in Afghanistan, he allegedly has a vast network that transverses state Bin Laden attacked the United States on a shoestring budget. It is estimated that the entire September 11th plot, including flight lessons, cost as little as $200,000. Finally, bin Laden and the other nineteen alleged hijackers all had brown skin. Their dark complexions are impacting U.S. foreign policy, U.S domestic policy including racial profiling, and the media's influence on the public.
This Article explores, from a critical race theory perspective, the impact that the media have had on our society since the September 11th attacks. Part I explains critical race theory with respect to racial profiling in the United States.
Parts II and III explore racial profiling prior to September 11th and related media coverage.
Part IV applies critical race theory to pre-September 11th racial profiling. Part V examines how pre-September 11th racial profiling patterns enabled nineteen hijackers to escape detection. Part VI further examines the impact of September 11th on the racial profiling practices introduced in Part I, and how public discourse about the phenomenon has changed. Further, in contrast to the Article's review of pre-September 11th racial profiling media coverage,
Part VII examines the media's impact on racial profiling practices after September 11th.
Part VIII reviews narrative accounts of individuals alleged to have engaged terrorist acts since September 11th, and Part IX examines the media coverage of post-September 11th terrorists. The Article concludes that the media have a powerful influence in shaping public opinion in the aftermath of September 11th.
I. A Critical Race Theory Approach
The United States has made substantial progress in race relations. Many doors that were previously closed are now presumably open to people, irrespective of race. In the early and mid-part of the 20th Century, segregation, discrimination and openly verbalized expressions of prejudice were perfectly acceptable. Since the Civil Rights Movement, American norms have shifted to embrace the ideal of a colorblind society. Survey results show that the vast majority of white Americans believe in equal and non-discriminatory treatment towards people of color in education, employment and housing. The country has adopted the rhetoric of Dr. Martin Luther King's message to Americans to judge each other by “the content of our character not by the color of our skin.” These changing norms have had a very powerful effect on American society, but they are only norms. Have all Americans really internalized them? Probably not.
In The Id, The Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism, Professor Charles R. Lawrence III explores unconscious racism. He posited that American society reaches certain negative stereotypes about African Americans while teaching whites that it is socially unacceptable to hold racist thoughts. Like many repressed thoughts and feelings, these negative stereotypes manifest themselves in many ways. For example, when addressing a group of Republican operatives, Nancy Reagan said that she wished her husband Ronald Reagan could be there to “see all these beautiful white people.” When challenged by the media on this issue, Reagan's Illinois campaign manager defended Mrs. Reagan by explaining, “she was talking to her husband about the white snow and that's how she got mixed up.”
For those who have not internalized the norm of colorblindness, “the norm functions as an external constraint, shaping their behavior to the extent they feel observed by those assumed to uphold the norm.” Norms are inefficacious when the behavior is unobserved. For example, a prejudiced woman interested in hiring a child-care provider may exclude all applicants that she believes are African American (based on residential address on the applicant's resume, stereotypical name, or the timbre of the applicant's voice suggesting certain stereotypical cadences). Since this woman is acting in a singular fashion before even meeting any of the applicants, she may be more likely to discriminate because she is unlikely to be discovered. However, the same woman, while serving on a work-related team to hire a subordinate, will be more cautious in discriminating; she would fear exposure as not adhering to the norm.
Norms are also inefficacious when the person who engages in the norm-breaking behavior can find a second acceptable norm to justify the breaking of the first norm. For example, with the color-blind norm, institutions espouse the rhetoric of equality, but often couple it with a requirement of an institutionally self-defined norm of merit so that a potential employee not meeting the merit standard will not be hired. The standards for merit may be set in a way that conceals violations of the colorblindness norm rather than legitimately ensuring competent performance on the job. The prejudiced woman may construct the standards of merit in a way that precludes African Americans. She will be able to stress these standards in her decision not to hire African American applicants, thus avoiding being labeled a racist. When criticized for having too few employees of color, her employer can respond, “we are not discriminating; we just can't find any qualified applicants of color.” Analogously, in our post-September 11th world, the United States has tried to adhere to its colorblind nondiscriminatory rhetoric, but this Article will show that, in some ways, the events of September 11th have allowed the norm of colorblindness to be surpassed by the norm of national security.
Race is variable and shaped by societal forces. Michael Omni and Harold Winant have written “Race is indeed a pre-eminently sociohistorical concept. Racial categories and the meaning of race are given concrete expression by the specific social relations and historical context in which they are embedded. Racial meanings have varied tremendously over time and between different societies.” In the United States, society has rigidly enforced a black/white paradigm with African Americans on the bottom and whites on top. Historically, the United States has followed the principle of hypo-descent, or, the “one-drop” rule--if a person has any African American ancestor, regardless of any white heritage, society categorizes that person's race as black, regardless of his or her appearance. In addition to black-white race integration issues, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, race concepts of what was considered white began to change due to influence from other groups. Initially, in the United States, the term “white” encompassed only those of Anglo-Saxon ancestry. With the immigration of many people from Ireland and southern and eastern Europe, the notion of “whiteness” grudgingly expanded to include these immigrants.
In the article If It's Not Black Anymore, Why Does Darkness Cast A Longer Discriminatory Shadow than Lightness? An Investigation and Analysis of the Color Hierarchy, I posit that the black-white paradigm in the United States is transforming gradually into a dark-light paradigm. With an increase in the number of Latinos and biracial Americans, the United States' social construction of race is shifting from the exclusive provinces of black-white to the newer realm of dark-light. The article predicts that society will ultimately lump most people of color in the middle of the pyramid irrespective of race, while “unmixed” African Americans will probably stay at the bottom. People of color with lighter complexions will face discrimination of a lesser magnitude than both unmixed blacks and dark-skinned people.
Also, I reported the results of a Western New England College Survey. Seventy percent of whites surveyed said that whites discriminated more against darker-skinned African Americans than lighter-skinned African Americans. Forty-one percent of the whites surveyed also thought that whites treated darker-skinned Latinos worse than lighter-skinned ones. As immigration from Latin America and interracial marriages increase, the U.S. population will truly span from white to black, with every variation in between these two classifications. While America's recognition of racial compositions that fall “in between” white and black categories could appear to be progressive, unfortunately, because of national security concerns, social construction of race in the United States is slipping into a “white-against-everyone-else” paradigm. All people of color will be lumped together and will be suspected of being terrorists, but national origin, religion, biracial background, and appearance may soften the profile. Evidence of this is the recent government pronouncement that law enforcement believes that the next terrorist is not going to be an Arab, but an Asian or African. In addition, the racial profiling of people of color is more likely to occur because of the racial ambiguity of many of the individuals so far apprehended. How can one determine whether a person is Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, Latino or African American? Many African Americans, for instance, have physical features similar to some alleged terrorists. Finally, this “white-against-everyone-else” paradigm is evidenced by increase in hate crimes against Arab Americans, and those people average Americans cannot distinguish from Arab Americans, like Southeast Asians and Latinos.
In the aftermath of September 11th, hostility and violence have increased towards Arab Americans and those people that average Americans have trouble distinguishing from Arab Americans, like Southeast Asians and Latinos. Since September 11th, more than 700 incidents of hate crimes against Sikhs and Muslims have occurred. President Bush has condemned these hate crimes and preached tolerance. However, a great deal of hostility and anxiety towards these groups exist in the United States.
Racial profiling all people of color makes it easier for authorities to get away with profiling because they will not have to discern the differences between and among different racial groups in the United States. The situation will be even worse if profiling is rationalized as necessary for national security; the colorblind norm could then be trumped by the national security norm. Further, it is very easy for a member of a minority group in the United States, in one fell swoop, to go from a “model minority” to public enemy number one.
II. Racial Profiling Prior to September 11th
Racial profiling is a practice of some law enforcement officers. Generally, police officers stop motorists of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds because the officers believe that members of those groups are more likely to commit certain crimes. In a 1999 Gallup poll, eighty-one percent of respondents said that they disapproved of racial profiling. Prior to September 11th, there were allegations that racial profiling took place in New Jersey and Maryland. The allegation was that primarily African American and Latino drivers were singled out on New Jersey and Maryland interstate highways for illegal searches; the ‘offense‘ is euphemistically known as “driving while black or brown.” The New Jersey State police released statistics that showed that even though African Americans comprised only sixteen percent of the drivers on the road, they constituted twenty-five percent of those stopped, and minorities generally constituted forty percent of those stopped. From 1994 to 1999, in central and southern New Jersey, African Americans and Latinos constituted over seventy percent of the drivers whose cars were searched during traffic stops. The Orlando Sentinel analyzed videotapes of the traffic stops of over 1,000 drivers and discovered that African Americans and Latinos constituted almost seventy percent of the traffic stops and eighty percent of the vehicle searches. On a stretch of Interstate 95, northeast of Baltimore, African American drivers accounted for seventeen percent of drivers, but comprised seventy percent of those stopped by police.
Of course, a person's race may be a legitimate factor to consider when attempting to identify a suspected perpetrator from a witness account. The statistics released in both New Jersey and Maryland, however, suggest that law enforcement used race as the sole factor in stopping this vastly disproportionate number of minority drivers. Race should never be the sole factor, especially in those circumstances where there is no witness identification.
The case of Brown v. City of Oneonta may be instructive. In rural, upstate New York, a seventy-seven year old white woman was attacked and could not identify the assailant because she had only seen the attacker's hand and forearm, which were black. She thought that the assailant was young based on the speed with which he crossed her room, and she said that the assailant had cut himself on his hand with a knife as they struggled. The police immediately contacted the nearby State University of New York at Oneonta, asked for a list of all black male students, and then proceeded to interview all the African American students on the list. When this search produced no suspects, the police questioned all non-white persons on the streets and inspected their hands for cuts. Although the authorities questioned more than two hundred individuals, they failed to apprehend any suspects.
The Brown court noted that a description of race and gender alone would rarely provide a reasonable suspicion justifying a police search or seizure. However, the court held that the determination of who would be questioned was based on “the legitimate classification” of a physical description given by the victim of a crime. The court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff's equal protection claims noting that “attempting to question every person fitting a general description--may well have a disparate impact on small minority groups in towns such as Oneonta.” The court found that, “[w]ithout additional evidence of discriminatory animus, the disparate impact of an investigation . . . is insufficient to sustain an equal protection claim.” The court acknowledged that the stop of one African American woman might “indicate the [law enforcement officers] considered race more strongly than other parts of the victim's description.” Nevertheless, the court dismissed this fact, rationalizing the stop as being just a “single incident.” Finally, the court warned, “[l]aw enforcement officials should always be cognizant of the impressions they leave on a community, lest distrust of law enforcement undermine its effectiveness.”
The Brown opinion supports the theory that society will adhere to the norm of colorblindness unless a superceding norm like safety, security, or law enforcement exists to “trump” the colorblind norm. Even though the Brown court acknowledged that the law enforcement actions at issue created a bad impression in the community, it was an insufficient basis to find that the equal protection clause was violated.
The police actions revealed in Brown were outrageous and ineffective. They made every African American male in the town a suspect. The authorities justified their approach based on the fact that small numbers of African Americans were affected. Still, the authorities never found the offender. Given the fact that the police also questioned a woman in this sweep, it appears that race was a more salient consideration than gender and age. Contrary to the court's statement, it does not seem likely that if the situation was reversed, i.e., that if a small number of whites lived near a larger black community, all whites would be questioned though one white person allegedly committed a crime. If that situation occurred, the police would probably look for additional criteria to narrow the field of suspects. As the court noted, the police tactics would have a negative effect on community relations.
A couple of months ago, CNN reported that Los Angeles Airport had been evacuated because the security screeners had inadvertently let an unscreened passenger pass through to the airline terminals. The reporter said that authorities would never be able to identify the unscreened passenger because he was white and looked like the majority of the other business travelers. As a result, authorities took the extreme measure of closing down the airport because they would have difficulty in identifying the unscreened white passenger. The authorities did not question every white passenger, suspecting that they slipped through security in an attempt to cause terrorism. In fact, the commentators were not blaming the unscreened white passenger for entering the terminal without clearance. Instead, they blamed the security screeners who tend to be low-wage workers and members of minority groups.
When racial profiling occurs, it allows law enforcement to take the easy way out, lumping all individuals of a particular race together to try to find a few perpetrators. It allows the government to inconvenience many members of a minority group for the benefit of law enforcement objectives in ways that might never be done to members of the majority.
In 1998, the United States Customs Agency changed its criteria for detaining passengers believed to be carrying contraband. The Agency had received much criticism from African American women who were disproportionately required to undergo very invasive body searches. The Agency eliminated racial and gender profiles. Instead, it implemented a “passenger analysis” system, which went beyond race and gender, and analyzed criteria rationally related to finding illegal contraband. These criteria included point of embarkation and itinerary, evidencing frequency of travel to, and length of time spent, in certain places. As a result of these new criteria, the Customs Bureau conducted seventy percent fewer searches, yet increased its yield of illegal contraband by twenty-five percent.
III. The Media Coverage of Racial Profiling Prior to September 11th
In 1992, the Boston Globe published an article entitled Guilty . . . of Being Black; Black Men Say Success Doesn't Save Them from Being Suspected, Harassed, and Detained. In the article, several prominent African American professional men described how law enforcement authorities had racially profiled them. The list included such notables as Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, then-Associate Attorney General of the United States Wayne Budd, then-Celtic draft pick Dee Brown, Executive Producer of Channel 5 Karl Nurse, and the executive producer of the film “Eyes on the Prize,” Henry Hampton.
Primetime Live broadcasted a segment devoted to “driving while black.” In the segment, four young African American men drove a late model Mercedes Benz equipped with a hidden camera. The young men were either college students or recent college graduates, and a family member owned the luxury car. The police allegedly stopped the car because the driver failed to signal a lane change. The hidden camera showed how the police asked the young men to leave the car while the police did a full search. A hidden microphone overheard the police state that they thought illegal drugs were contained in a carry-on case located in the trunk. The four men were eventually released after no illegal substances were found in the car. Primetime Live then went back to the intersection and showed that most drivers failed to signal when changing lanes at the same intersection. This evidence suggested that law enforcement detained the four African Americans on pretext, and that the search went beyond what was required for a traffic stop.
These examples show that before September 11th, the media wanted to demonstrate that racial profiling was both pervasive and ineffective. Even so, this coverage was often sporadic and failed to fully counteract other news coverage contributing to the creation of racial stereotypes.
IV. A Critical Race Analysis of Profiling Prior to September 11th
Prior to September 11th, the news media and society presumed that perpetrators who were racially identified (or “racialized”) as white were inherently good, and that something bad had happened to cause them to do wrong. The media asked: Was there bad parenting? Was he involved with the wrong crowd? Was he using medication that may have contributed to his behavior? In contrast, for those racialized as being of African descent, the news media and society presumed that these individuals were generally bad, ignoring the possibility of mitigating factors when examining negative behavior. Further, for those who have olive-colored complexions and are of Middle Eastern ancestry, before September 11th, the news media and society stereotyped them in one of two ways: either negatively, as possible Middle Eastern terrorists and religious fanatics, or positively, as royal family members or oil millionaires.
An illustrative example is that of Zacarius Moussaoui, the only person allegedly linked to the September 11th attacks who was apprehended prior to the execution of the attacks. Moussaoui is a French citizen of Moroccan ethnicity. He probably was racially profiled because of his African appearance. This racial profiling may help explain why he was the only person detained in advance of September 11th. He was detained on an immigration violation in August of 2001, and it has been reported that he was apprehended because he wanted to learn how to fly jetliners without learning to land. Moussaoui first attended flight school in Norman, Oklahoma; the instructors told him that he had no aptitude for flying. In Oklahoma, he was described as abrupt and argumentative, and he refused to pay the full $4,995 fee in advance, instead paying $2,500 in cash. He then moved on to the Pan American Flight school in Minnesota where he spent time on a flight simulator for a Boeing 747. Believing that this training might be used in a hijacking, an official at the flight academy tipped off the FBI in advance. The employees at the flight school felt that the FBI was slow to respond. After four to six telephone calls failed to produce an agent willing to help, the caller felt compelled to warn that a Boeing 747 could be used as a bomb.
Moussaoui was arrested on August 16, 2001 for an immigration violation. The Washington Post described why the Minnesota flight school was suspicious of Moussaoui--Moussaoui paid the school's $6,300 fee in cash, he was woefully lacking in flight skills, and he was evasive and belligerent when asked about his background. In one example, when an employee noted Moussaoui's place of birth and greeted him in French, Moussaoui refused to respond, stating that he was from the Middle East rather than France. Moussaoui wanted to fly a 747 but had little experience in doing so. The news media also reported that he only wanted to learn to steer an aircraft--not learn to take off or land. However, according to his flight instructor, Clancy Prevost, Moussaoui never said any of these things. According to Prevost, he became suspicious when Moussaoui “flushed” when asked whether he was a Muslim.
Even more fascinating than Moussaoui's specific case, is the information surrounding the nineteen hijackers responsible for the September 11th attacks. Specifically, more than sufficient grounds existed to believe that the hijackers were planning to use their flight training for terrorist activities, unrelated to the hijackers' ethnic background. The nineteen hijackers were alleged, undercover sleeper agents, attempting to blend into American society until September 11, 2001. However, they got into trouble while living in the United States; for example, both Mohamed Atta and Marwan Yusef Mohammed al-Shehhi were thrown out of Jones Flying Service School for unprofessional behavior and instructors complained about their attitude.
For Moussaoui, there was no countervailing positive stereotype to overcome his blackness. The media negatively stereotyped people of African descent as bad actors. This dynamic made it easy for those who encountered Moussaoui to suspect him of wrongdoing. His bad attitude was enough for people to be suspicious that he was a possible terrorist. Although not expressly a part of the media's coverage, one might wonder whether Moussaoui's paying cash for his flying lessons raised questions in the minds of the flight school as to the source of his funding. In contrast, the nineteen hijackers benefited from the “oil millionaire” stereotype and, thus, their source of funds was not questioned. This contrast shows why racial profiling is ineffective--it allowed detainment of one possible culprit who seemed to be only tangentially involved in the hijacking, while nineteen key players were able to escape detection and cause considerable harm.
V. How the September 11th Hijackers Escaped Detection
Although the September 11th hijackers had engaged in behavior similar to Moussaoui's, none of them were detained before the attacks. Upon examining the suspicious behavior they engaged in, and the way they were perceived, it appears that each of these men escaped detection because a positive stereotype counteracted the negative stereotype that could have been applied to them. Despite the common profiling of Arabs as religious fanatics and terrorists, the more positive image of the wealthy or royal Arab balanced against this negative stereotype, preventing flags from being raised about the activities of these men.
A. Mohamed al-Amir Awad al-Sayed Atta
The FBI believes that Mohamed Atta was aboard the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center. He was an Egyptian citizen who had been in the United States taking flying lessons at the Huffman Flight School in Florida. One of Atta's fellow students in flight school thought that he was from a royal family. The owner of the school described Atta as having a bad attitude. When Atta applied for a government loan, he threatened a Department of Agriculture official and praised Osama bin Laden. The official said, “I didn't know who Osama bin Laden was. . . . He could have been a character in ‘Star Wars' for all I knew.” In early 2001, Atta was stopped by a deputy sheriff while driving, probably because he did not have a proper United States driver's license. He was ordered to appear in court on May 28, 2001, and because he failed to appear, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. No effort was ever made to find him. In fact, police subsequently stopped Atta for speeding in Delray Beach, but because the two police departments' computers did not interface. The officers released Atta--despite the fact he was a “wanted man.”
B. Saeed Alghamdi
Saeed Alghamdi is alleged to have been one of the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field. He is believed to be a Saudi Arabian citizen. The travel agent who sold Alghamdi and fellow hijacker Marwan Yusef Mohammed al-Shehhi their one-way tickets from Newark, New Jersey, stated that they “paid cash and didn't wait for the change.” The FBI believed that Alghamdi used the social security number of a Vermont woman who had been dead for thirty years and the address of a Florida Air Force base that had no record of him staying there. Nevertheless, he was never arrested or accused of criminal activity.
While residing in Florida, Alghamdi had a heated argument with two of his downstairs neighbors. He banged on the neighbor's door to retrieve a towel. The neighbor said that she slammed the door, locked it, and activated her burglar alarm. She said Alghamdi was polite the next few times she saw him.
C. Marwan Yusef Mohammed al-Shehhi
Marwan Al-Shehhi was Mohamed Atta's cousin, raised in the United Arab Emirates and trained at the same aviation school in Florida. FBI officials believe he was aboard the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center towers. In one instance before September 11th, after drinking heavily, Atta, al-Shehhi, and a third man got into an altercation at a bar in Florida. At the bar, Atta claimed that he was a pilot for American Airlines. The altercation arose when the waitress serving the men asked them to pay their bill. The men considered the request an insult, believing it was an insinuation that they could not afford to pay.
D. Ziad Jarrahi
Ziad Jarrahi was raised in Lebanon, the son of a wealthy bank manager who frequently flew to the United States. The FBI suspects that Jarrahi was aboard the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The FBI also believes that on September 11th Jarrahi met with three other alleged hijackers, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, and Ahmed Alnami, and flew from Florida to Newark to hijack United Airlines Flight 93. Even though the FBI alleges that he carried a knife and box cutter, he was still able to slip through security at Newark Airport.
E. Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi
Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi were the hijackers who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. These men used their real names to obtain bank accounts and driver's licenses. Although the CIA had linked Almihdhar to one of the suspected bombers of the USS Cole, the State Department issued him a new visa when his expired. Almihdhar and Alhazmi met frequently with five of the other nineteen hijackers. In December 1999, U.S. Intelligence intercepted conversations on a Yemeni phone that mentioned the names Almihdhar and Alhazmi and linked them to al Qaeda. In January 2000, they attended an al Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysian authorities reported this meeting to the CIA with photos and full names. Since the CIA did not tell the State Department to put either man on a “watch list,” both returned to the United States without incident on January 15, 2000.
Flight instructor Rick Garza reported that he gave both men about six classes on the ground before taking them up in the air. He said that “[t]hey were only interested in flying big jets,” and he did not think that they had the “aptitude” for flying. In fact, he referred to them as “Dumb and Dumber.” Alhazmi failed to graduate from two flight schools in California. In April 2001, Alhazmi was pulled over for speeding in Oklahoma. The state trooper ran Alhazmi's driver's license through the computer but found no evidence of wrongdoing. The trooper issued two tickets totaling $138 and let Alhazmi go.
Later, the FBI's Arizona and Minnesota field offices warned of suspicious activities by Middle Eastern men at flight schools. The CIA failed to follow up information regarding a meeting of al Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lumpur, which included two of the alleged September 11th hijackers. Still, nine of the nineteen hijackers were pulled aside for special airport security screenings on the morning of September 11th. Two of the hijackers were singled out for problems with their identification, while the others' bags were searched for explosives and unauthorized weapons as a result of a computerized screening process. On September 11th, an unidentified man called police because he had gotten into a screaming match with three agitated Arab men over a Logan Airport parking space. It is believed that the three men were some of the hijackers.
The nineteen hijackers might also have been discovered by their financial transactions. A suspected al Qaeda middleman in the Persian Gulf transferred $325,000 into the bank accounts of the nineteen alleged hijackers without raising any red flags at the banks. The hijackers may have escaped detention because many of the transactions were below $10,000. By receiving wire transfers directly into commercial bank accounts, they were able to avoid the banks' reporting requirements. Some of the alleged hijackers used fake social security numbers when opening their accounts, but the banks never questioned or scrutinized those numbers. If the banks had realized that the accounts had been opened with phony social security numbers, they would have been required to file reports of suspicious activity to Federal regulators.
VI. Racial Profiling and September 11th
Prior to September 11th, most people acknowledged that racial profiling was wrong if it took place, but public discourse denied its occurrence. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that “[t]here should be no loopholes or safe harbors for racial profiling. Official discrimination of this sort is wrong and unconstitutional no matter what the context.” Since September 11th, public sentiment has changed concerning racial profiling--at least when it comes to Arab Americans. In a recent Gallup Poll, fifty-eight percent of the respondents said that they supported “requiring Arabs, including those who are United States citizens, to undergo special, more intensive security checks before boarding planes in the United States.” Many commentators also changed their minds and were more hesitant about prohibiting racial profiling. Some commentators now suggest that racial profiling is a legitimate police tactic. Some have said that random checking is “neither efficient nor effective.” Instead, they advocate a “focused system of profiling passengers who are deemed likelier to pose risk, using screeners trained to scrutinize travelers and their behavior.”
Since September 11th, the Middle Eastern terrorist stereotype has completely overpowered the oil millionaire stereotype. As a result, Arabs have been “darkened” in the mind of American public. In fact, since many white Americans often are unable to distinguish between people of color of different racial and ethnic ancestries, this terrorist stereotype has even expanded to include Southeast Asians of Indian and Pakistani ethnicity. Therefore, these groups have metamorphosed from so-called oil millionaires and model minorities into being Arab terrorists.
Airline officials and law enforcement officials have racially profiled some African American men as possible Middle Eastern terrorists. A federal investigation of possible terrorist cells in the Pacific Northwest is focused on a group of African American converts to Islam. Federal authorities charged six individuals in Portland, Oregon with conspiring to join al Qaeda and the Taliban, despite the fact that none of the six had ever traveled to Afghanistan. Five of the six individuals are American-born African Americans. In addition, law enforcement officials have stated that they believe that the next al Qaeda terrorists are likely to come from Africa or Asia. Some African American men have reported that they believe that they are being profiled as Middle Eastern terrorists. Abdullah Abu Kusomo, an African American man, reported that he “is almost always searched when he travels” because of his name.
The recent link between the drug trade and terrorism provides other opportunities for law enforcement authorities to profile African Americans. Almost one-third (twelve of twenty-eight) of the groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States Department of State allegedly traffic in illegal drugs. The drug money reportedly funds terrorist organizations. Attorney General John Ashcroft stated: “[f]ollowing extraordinary collaboration and information-sharing between agencies, this list has been developed, and what it reveals is shocking.” Ashcroft indicated that al Qaeda was on this list. Moreover, the link between terrorism and the drug trade is being etched in the public mind. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a series of advertisements that link illicit drugs to terrorism. This link between terrorism and drug use is worrisome because the war on drugs has often been a war against poor people and African Americans. African Americans are a small minority of illegal drug users, but a large majority of people sentenced for drug offenses.
Since September 11th, racial profiling has been the subject of jokes. For instance, shortly after September 11th, the Doonesbury comic strip ran a series of strips highlighting America's anxiety about racial profiling of Arab Americans. In one strip, the title character Mike Doonesbury is seated in an airplane next to an Arab American passenger. While waiting for takeoff, the Arab American passenger talks on his cell phone “praising Allah,” stating that he “used the cash sent,” and discussing his car rental and motel. Doonesbury “profiles” the Arab American passenger and panics. Once he learns that his fellow passenger is actually just a guy who sells palm pilots from Tacoma, Washington, Doonesbury relaxes. In another strip, an African American passenger on the same plane asks Doonesbury: “Hey, buddy. What's the story on the guy you're sitting with?” Doonesbury responds: “He's a salesman from Tacoma. He's flying home to see his mother.” The African American passenger responds: “Oh . . . that's a relief! Well, not exactly a relief, just . . . well you know.” Doonesbury responds to the African American passenger: “Okay, so this must be weird for you.” The African American passenger finally responds: “Yeah, I don't need this kind of irony in my life.” Saturday Night Live ran a weekend update segment in which cast member Tracy Morgan, who is black, pleaded to the police to “Shake me down! Shake me down!”
Some of the humor is designed to defuse a difficult issue, but some of it is designed to suggest that racial profiling is acceptable and that African Americans no longer have to worry about it. People of African descent must to be wary of these blandishments for several reasons. First, profiling of people of African descent has now probably expanded to include crimes of terror. Zacarius Moussaoui has more of an African appearance than the nineteen alleged perpetrators, and he was the only person apprehended prior to the September 11th attacks, even though there were significant bad acts by the nineteen alleged perpetrators to make others suspicious. Second, since September 11th, the first persons captured for suspected terrorist plots in the United States are members of racial groups that have a long been the targets of racial profiling--a Puerto Rican, Jose Padilla, and a person of African descent, Richard Reid.
American citizens have been deputized to help ferret out future terrorist activities. Since September 11th, the United States has constantly been on alert. The Director of Homeland Security developed a color coding system to alert Americans to dangers and the nation has been at code yellow for high risk ever since. Americans have received unspecified warnings of possible attacks. Americans have been told that the next attack could be on the United States coasts, that tractor-trailer trucks could be involved, and that terrorists might rent apartments for the purpose of conducting terrorist attacks. Further, Americans were told that the July 4th holiday might precipitate more attacks. Yet, the authorities have not told Americans when, where, or how a future attack is supposed to take place. The purpose of the warnings is to put us on alert so that the public can help identify suspicious individuals or circumstances. Notwithstanding the vagueness of these warnings, all Americans are supposed to remain vigilant and on guard.
The deputizing of the American public will lead to further racial profiling. Since the American public generally believes that those with dark skin are more likely to be violent than whites, they are likely to look upon anyone with non-white skin as a possible terrorist.
Some have argued that, since all of the September 11th hijackers were Arabs, racial profiling of this group would aid in the finding of future terrorists. However, more than three million Arab-Americans live in the United States. If all 1,200 persons detainees were terrorists and they were the only terrorists, then less than a fraction of one percent of Arab Americans are terrorists while the other ninety-nine percent of all Arab Americans are not terrorists. But of the 1,200 suspected al Qaeda sympathizers rounded up by the FBI after September 11th, all but seventy-four were released. Of the seventy-four, thirty-eight are likely to be deported for immigration violations and criminal offenses not related to terrorism. By using race as the sole criteria, law enforcement officials detained many innocent people, and so far have failed to find many so-called sleeper agents.
According to the guidelines of the Transportation Security Administration, detailed searches are conducted at random. The random screenings take place at the security checkpoint and, later, at the gate. An additional level of scrutiny is geared specifically to the passenger's actions. For example, did the passenger buy a one-way ticket? Did the passenger pay for her ticket in cash? Did the passenger change her itinerary within seventy-two hours of flight? Law enforcement officials say that profiling of individuals based on their race or country of origin is prohibited. But Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, has said that he believes ethnic profiling is taking place. He said that he has asked the Federal government to collect statistics on the number of Arabs being searched under its current policy, and it has declined.
Unlike the case with profiling of African Americans, many white Americans are now willing to admit that they engage in racial profiling of Arab Americans. Since we are all deputized, some profiling is taking place by average everyday citizens. In Newsweek's My Turn column, author Lori Hope reported that, while her plane was waiting on the tarmac for take off, she noticed a suspicious-looking man. She described the man as “olive-skinned, black-haired, and clean shaven, with a blanket covering his legs and feet.” She reported that she thought his use of a blanket “was strange because I felt so warm. No one else was using a blanket.” Ms. Hope then reported the “suspicious-looking” man to the flight attendants. The head flight attendant told the author that the suspicious passenger was removed from the plane, that “he seemed depressed, but also very nervous.” Finally the head flight attendant told her: “You did the right thing. Once we're in the air, it's too late.” Understandably, Americans are frightened and anxious about future terrorist activities, but there are lots of reasons the “suspicious-looking” man may have needed a blanket. One might ask whether she would have done the same thing if a white man had his legs covered with a blanket?
Airline personnel, not working in a law enforcement capacity, are also profiling passengers. On Christmas Day, an Arab American secret service agent, Walied Shater, was scheduled to fly from Baltimore to Dallas for his assignment protecting President Bush. As a federal agent carrying a gun, Shater completed the required E2 form, necessary for him to carry a gun onto the plane. However, the secret service agent's original flight was canceled. Unable to find a blank E2 form, the gate agent crossed out the flight and seat number from the canceled flight and inserted those for the rebooked flight. While Shater was asked to leave the plane for additional security clearance, the flight attendant discovered a book entitled “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes” that Shater left in his seat. The flight attendants told the pilot that they were “concerned” about the passenger and his book with “Arabic-style print.” The pilot found the E2 form incomplete and illegible. He went to talk to the passenger who allegedly made “loud [and] abusive comments.” The pilot telephoned airline security to have the secret service agent removed from the plane. The pilot said in a statement: “With the lives of the . . . passengers and crew [at stake], I . . . edge[d] toward the side of safety.”
The government is also profiling individuals of Middle Eastern ancestry. In November 2001, the Department of Justice started to interview “more than 5,000 people nationwide--the majority Middle Eastern men ages eighteen to thirty-three years old who came here within the last two years on nonimmigrant visas in search of information on terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda.” In March of 2002, the Justice Department decided to interview 3,000 additional men, ages eighteen to forty-six, who also entered the United States on nonimmigrant visas, between October 2001 and February 2002, from countries with an al Qaeda presence. Although the Justice Department said that these men were not suspected of crimes, they “might, either wittingly or unwittingly, be in the same circles, communities, or social groups as those engaged in terrorist activities.” The local United States Attorney sent letters to these individuals that stated:
Your name was brought to our attention because, among other things, you came to Michigan on a visa from a country where there are groups that support, advocate, or finance international terrorism. We have no reason to believe that you are, in any way, associated with terrorist activities. Nevertheless, you may know something that could be helpful in our efforts.
The interviews are described as voluntary, but an Immigration and Naturalization Service memorandum suggests that some of those interviewed might be kept in custody without bond if the “investigators [develop] an interest in them.” Some police departments refused to assist the Department of Justice in this endeavor because they believed that it was illegal racial profiling. However, seventy-nine percent of the American public approved this program. Some commentators have been equivocal concerning whether the policy is illegal racial profiling.
VII. How the Media Coverage of September 11th Affected Racial Profiling
The attacks on the World Trade Center were aired live on network television. One to two months after the September 11th attacks, eleven percent of New Yorkers reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which was almost three times the national average. A study found that the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder was highest in those that watched the most television and was even higher than for those who lost a family member, friend, or co-worker. The coverage profoundly affected all Americans. One must ask “why” ? Was it because broadcasters repeatedly replayed the image of the planes hitting the towers and the towers collapsing? Was it because most broadcast and cable companies dropped advertising and entertainment programs and substituted non-stop news coverage of the terrorist attacks? It was because the coverage was live, unpackaged and unfiltered. The major networks--ABC, CBS, and NBC--were without commercial interruption for almost ninety hours. The September 11th television coverage surpassed the coverage of the Kennedy Assassination by about twenty hours. In addition, many of the specialized cable networks like MTV, VH1, TNN, FX, Fox, and ESPN also aired news feed from their network affiliates.
The effect of the attacks and the news coverage was profound. Many citizens of the United States and the world, not solely the people directly affected by the attacks, felt the fear and panic. Americans were fearful of attack from any direction. There were an unprecedented number of false bomb threats to government buildings and landmarks. Many facilities were repeatedly evacuated right after the September 11th attack. Americans may always have had these false bomb threats, but now they were televised live. Moreover, the government was taking each one very seriously. In addition, several people were killed and many others injured by the still unsolved anthrax attacks that followed the airplane attacks.
Images from New York, the posters of missing persons and makeshift memorials, saddened the American people. Family members appeared on television hoping that their loved ones would be found alive. The death toll was announced many times daily. And countless people experienced it all through television as if they were there. The events of September 11th demonstrate the power of the television and related medium.
In FCC v. Pacifica, the Supreme Court noted that radio and television broadcasting were different than other media because of their omnipresence and their intrusive quality. The Court observed that, without warning, the broadcast audience might be trapped into seeing or hearing an unwanted message before the audience member realizes what she is seeing or hearing. The broadcast coverage of September 11th was the ultimate illustration of the rationale of Pacifica.
When the United States first proceeded against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in an effort to find and capture bin Laden, the government restricted the American media from the war zone. The news media had to rely exclusively on film footage from Al Jazeera, which is an independent, twenty-four hour, Arab satellite television station. Many newscasters apologized to viewers for pictures and interviews that might appear to be slanted against the United States. In addition, Al Jazeera broadcast taped interviews of bin Laden. For instance, bin Laden appeared on Al Jazeera denouncing the United States' military campaign in Afghanistan as “unjust” and “ferocious.”
Bin Laden's use of the media was novel. It was the first time that an American adversary had such personal and intimate access to American television screens. He specifically articulated his side of the story. The leaders of our foreign adversaries in past conflicts were largely unseen on American television. Bin Laden, however, the man allegedly responsible for killing over three thousand Americans, was on television speaking directly to an American audience. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asked that the major television networks refrain from broadcasting tapes of bin Laden, because the Bush administration was concerned that he might be sending encoded messages to sleeper agents around the world.
The power of Al Jazeera highlights the global impact of broadcast television. Political leaders now realize that foreign news broadcasts shape opinions across international boundaries. To deal with this new global reality, the Bush administration first attempted to force the Government of Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, to control its content. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with the Emir of Qatar and to express concern about the “inflammatory rhetoric” used on Al Jazeera. When this tactic failed, the Bush administration had several senior officials--Powell, National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld-- appear as guests on Al Jazeera talk shows. In addition, the Bush administration arranged for Christopher Ross, former ambassador to Syria and fluent in Arabic, to appear on Al Jazeera. Ambassador Ross had two hours of live airtime to respond to bin Laden, and told the audience that “[t]he terrorists are falsifying facts and history.” The White House invited Al Jazeera to cover an event at the White House where the Red Cross praised American children for raising money for to aid children in Afghanistan. The Bush administration also created an office to better disseminate positive information about the United States to the Arab world.
The attacks of September 11th demonstrate the importance and influence of the media. One result of post-September 11th media is that people of color are now vulnerable to being profiled in a broader scope. Now a black man may no longer be just the “savage Black Brute;” he may be a possible Middle Eastern Terrorist. Media frequently broadcast negative stereotypes of African Americans and other minorities. These stereotypical images lead the majorities of the American public to have negative views of African Americans and other minorities.
The Report of President Clinton's Initiative on Race indicated that 52.8% of the population associated violence with African Americans, 42.8% found violence as an attribute of Latinos, 21.3% found violence an attribute of Asian Americans, whereas only 18.8% of the population associated whites with violence. A study by the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania showed that even though black-on-white and brown-on-white crime constitutes a very small proportion of crimes committed, Philadelphia broadcasters were most likely to report and highlight black-on-white crimes. Another study reported that even though crime rates declined drastically in the 1990s, the national broadcasters' coverage of crime increased 721%.
Other studies show that African American suspects are more likely than whites to have their photographs broadcast on the news and are more likely to be shown as suspects, i.e., handcuffed, escorted by police, or with a “mug shot” displayed. Whites are usually not shown in police restraints, and either no photograph is shown or a photography-studio-quality photograph is shown, like a high school yearbook photograph. Distorted images like these convey the message that African Americans and Latinos are to be feared. Since September 11th, it may seem as though the media have conveyed the message that all people from the Middle East are terrorists and that almost all people of color should be feared.
VIII. Terrorism After September 11th
All but seventy-four of the Middle Eastern individuals who were detained after September 11th have been released. Despite the heightened sense of security and the deputizing of the American public, the first alleged terrorists apprehended in the mainland U.S. before they could carry out their plans are men of African or Latino descent. Richard Reid, of African descent, is the alleged “Shoe Bomber” who attempted to blow up an airplane destined for the United States with explosives concealed in his shoes. Jose Padilla, of Latino descent, was arrested for allegedly conspiring to build and detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Neither of these men is of Arab ethnicity, although they both are alleged to be Islamic extremists. Despite the jokes about racial profiling, law enforcement officials seem to be most successful in singling out and detaining those from groups with which they have had a long experience of profiling.
Since September 11th, two other individuals have been identified as terrorists, John Walker Lindh and Charles Bishop. Lindh is a white American man who was discovered fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was apprehended and prosecuted for conspiracy to kill his fellow Americans, to commit terrorism, and to support terrorists. Bishop was a mixed-race American teenager who flew a small plane into a Florida office building. Although, like Lindh, Bishop sympathized with bin Laden, no one was aware of his sympathy until after his terrorist act, in which he took only one life--his own. It is worth noting that, under different circumstances, Bishop might have done much more harm.
A. Terrorist Activities and Related Persons
1. Richard Reid
Richard Reid is a twenty-eight year old British citizen, the son of a mixed-race Jamaican man and a white British woman. When first apprehended, the authorities racially misidentified him. They thought that his British passport was “bogus” and that he appeared to be of “Middle Eastern descent.” His racial ambiguity seems to have cut two ways. First, his coloration and hair texture probably led some people to believe that he was not of African descent, and was instead Middle Eastern, which may have led to his initial detention. On the other hand, Reid's British citizenship and British accent “whitened” him, and almost allowed him to get away with his attempt.
Reid's plans to board a flight from Paris to Miami scheduled for December 21, 2001 were foiled because security officials investigated him and delayed his departure. He missed his flight when his “unkept appearance” and the fact that “he had no bags” caused the authorities to subject him to extensive questioning. Authorities probably thought that he was Middle Eastern, but he fit a legitimate, non-racial profile because he was not checking any luggage. The next day security officials reportedly recognized him and let him pass unimpeded to the waiting airplane. The officials probably realized he was the British citizen that they had questioned earlier and felt that they did not need to do a second comprehensive check.
On an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami, Reid allegedly attempted to light a fuse protruding from his shoe. The flight attendants and passengers spotted Reid acting strangely and then suddenly holding a match to his feet. Passengers and crewmembers stopped him before he could light the fuse. Given his complexion and hair texture, the other passengers probably more readily noticed his activities. Allegedly, when the flight attendant confronted him, he bit her. The passengers on the plane grabbed Reid, took away his shoes, tied him with belts, sedated him with Valium, and watched him until the plane landed. The plane was diverted to Boston, where Reid is currently incarcerated.
2. Jose Padilla
Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah al Muhajir, is a thirty-one-year-old Puerto Rican man who currently is being held indefinitely by the federal government for allegedly having taken part in a conspiracy to manufacture a “dirty bomb.” He was born in Brooklyn, New York to Catholic natives of Puerto Rico. On May 8, 2002, law enforcement officials apprehended Padilla because they said that he was involved in a plot to explode a radioactive dirty bomb. United States officials say they have “no proof that al Qaeda has yet developed a radioactive dirty bomb.” In addition, they do not know of any other conspirators in the bombing plot in the Unites States. The United States first held Padilla as a material witness for one month. He was transferred to military custody on President Bush's orders and is being held indefinitely as a “military combatant.” No plans exist to charge Padilla with a crime in criminal or military court. It is believed that al Qaeda leaders tapped Padilla for the dirty bomb plot because he had a U.S. passport and would be able to travel freely throughout the United States.
3. John Walker Lindh
John Walker Lindh has been called “the American Taliban.” He is a white American citizen who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan and was captured by American soldiers. He faced charges that he conspired to kill his fellow Americans, supported terrorists, and knew three months prior to September 11th that Osama bin Laden would send suicide squads to the United States. He personally met with Osama bin Laden and trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. When Lindh was first captured in Afghanistan, the authorities were uncertain of his racial and national identity. By speaking English, it probably became more obvious that Lindh was a white American. When John Walker Lindh was indicted in January, Attorney General John Ashcroft said that Lindh's case was a “critical case in the nation's fight against terrorism.” In addition, Attorney General Ashcroft described Lindh as a “fanatical follower of the Taliban [who] never wavered in his allegiance to terrorism.”
4. Charles Bishop
Bishop was the fifteen-year-old boy who flew a small plane into an office building in Tampa, Florida. Before he took off, he left a handwritten note expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden. Bishop arrived at the airfield and was handed his scheduled flight lessons and a key to the airplane loaded with forty gallons of fuel. He was supposed to wait for the flight instructor to finish another lesson. Before anyone noticed, Bishop flew the plane without waiting for the flight instructor to join him. The plane flew over restricted airspace of U.S. Central command, which directs military actions in Afghanistan, and flew 1,000 feet above Southwest flight 2229 with 114 passengers and five crewmembers on board. North American Aerospace Defense Command sent two F-15s from Homestead Air Reserve Base to intercept. The pilot of a Coast Guard helicopter used hand signals to try to get Bishop to land, but Bishop failed to respond. Twelve minutes after takeoff, Bishop's plane struck the twenty-eighth floor of a forty-two-story office building scattering office furniture in a law office. Just an hour earlier an attorney had been at his desk in that corner office.
B. Evaluation of Terrorist Attacks and Related Persons
As an observer, it is interesting to consider the race and ethnicity of those currently incarcerated for crimes committed pursuant to the war on terrorism. Richard Reid almost got away with his plan because his biracial background and British citizenship probably whitened him enough to get him on the plane. The first person captured in advance of an alleged plot is Jose Padilla who is of Latino ancestry. Both Bishop and Lindh were able to actively participate in terrorist activities because they were either white or appeared white, and were therefore not considered suspects. The use of racial profiling as a police technique always raises the question of whether the authorities have apprehended the right individuals. As Professors Gross and Livingston have said, “[t]here is no serious crime that is committed by all, or most, or even a large fraction of the members of any racial group.” Howard University Law Professor Frank Wu has written that “[r]acial profiling operates inexorably towards its extreme.” Professor Wu postulates as more efforts are directed exclusively at one racial community, wrongdoers from other communities will escape detection. Given the fact that, national security concerns currently trump color blindness, ineffective racial profiling is likely to continue.
IX. Media Coverage of Post-September 11th Perpetrators
The media coverage after September 11th was generally consistent with prior coverage. When faced with a white perpetrator, the media asked for explanations for why the perpetrator went wrong, searching for justifications for the perpetrator's behavior. If the perpetrator was of African or Latino descent, the individuals often were described as “inherently evil.” The media generally has failed to consider any extenuating circumstances to explain the wrongdoing of an African American or Latino suspect. Since September 11th, the only apparent change has been that the coverage of Arab Americans has shifted to focus almost exclusively on the moral depravity of the “jihad,” or “Holy War.” As with the coverage of African Americans, there is currently no mitigating factor that is considered or evaluated in the coverage of an Arab American perpetrator.
This Section analyzes the media coverage of the four men involved in post-September 11th terrorist activities, as well as the media coverage of Zacarius Moussaoui, because most of the media attention surrounding his case occurred after September 11th. The media coverage of all of these men has been complicated by racial ambiguity, as each of these individuals was racially misidentified. It was first thought that Charles Bishop was white, and media coverage was sympathetic. When it was discovered that he was one-half Syrian, his coverage became less favorable. John Walker Lindh was probably initially thought to be Afghan. This belief was reinforced by initial images of him with a darkened face, beard, and long dark hair. When he cut his hair and washed his face, it became clear that he was a white American, at which point his coverage and treatment became much more favorable. Although Reid and Moussaoui are of African descent, they are citizens of Great Britain and France respectively. To make matters even more complicated, Richard Reid is biracial. In terms of the color hierarchy, both Reid and Moussaoui have been somewhat whitened due to their citizenship in countries that are strong U.S. allies. However, their Islamic faith has been portrayed as somewhat fanatical. Lastly, Jose Padilla, who is an American citizen of Puerto Rican ancestry, has been racialized in the most usual way, as a “street thug.”
A. Charles Bishop
The initial coverage of Bishop's attack in Tampa, like most coverage of those who are racialized as “white,” focused on his personal story. The newspaper accounts asked how did this happen? Where did his parents go wrong in raising him? The news media described Bishop as a “troubled young man,” “a loner” from a broken family. He was estranged from his father. His parents tried to commit suicide during their teenage romance because they were unable to marry. He was an honor student who enjoyed classical music. His mother described him in a New York Post article as, “[caring] about the world his generation was inheriting and [taking] special interest in environmental-impact issues, animal rights and endangered-species laws,” and politics.”
Bishop also was described as patriotic. The media described him as “a former flag bearer at school assemblies who wanted to join the Air Force.” They discussed the boy's patriotic traits and quoted one teacher as saying, “I can picture him singing 'My Country 'Tis of Thee,' bellowing it out.” Other teachers were quoted as stating, “[h]e told me he wanted to join the United States Air Force because he wanted to do something good for his country. He was a good boy.” The media accounts discussed how other teachers said he managed a literary magazine, entered essay contests run by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and helped plan bake sales and food drives as a student council member. One account speculated that his conduct could be the result of a powerful acne medicine called Accutane that he was taking, which has been linked to depression and suicide. His mother's lawyer was quoted as stating, “As a result of taking the drug, Mr. Bishop became severely psychotic and lost touch with reality, consequently flying into the side of a building.”
For most of those who are racialized as white, the news media presume that white alleged perpetrators are good and that any wrongdoing must be the result of tragic external circumstances. Charles Bishop was a young man who caused significant property damage and could have caused significant loss of human life by his actions, yet the media initially sought to forgive his behavior only because he was racialized as “one of their own.”
Bishop's suicide note, praising bin Laden, however, raised questions about the media's assumptions about his background. It was soon discovered that Bishop's father's family was of Syrian decent. After her divorce, Bishop's mother changed his birth-given surname from “Bishara” to “Bishop.” It was also reported that she changed their surnames during the Gulf War because she feared an anti-Arab backlash. It was at that point that the news media speculated that Bishop's ethnicity might have had something to do with his behavior. One of his teachers discussed that she was strict about preventing discriminatory conduct towards any of her students based on their ethnic background. Bishop's grandfather acknowledged that he was of Arabic ancestry, but that his father had come to the United States in the first part of the Twentieth century and they, therefore, considered themselves to be Americans.
B. John Walker Lindh
Once the media ascertained that Lindh was white, it proceeded to seek explanations for what went wrong with him. A New York Times Editorial stated:
John Walker Lindh is my son's age. He made a mistake. But he is not a Kim Philby or an Aldrich Ames, men who consciously betrayed their countries. He is a young man who was searching for truth and walked into a virulent form of fundamentalist Islam. Staunch patriots want him executed. Lesser zealots want him imprisoned for life. And those of us not strangers to the confusion of youth view him as if he were our own son and wonder if justice has enough room for common sense.
As portrayed by the media, Lindh was from a broken home, his parents had been overly permissive in his upbringing, and he had attended an alternative high school in California where he had been able to shape his own studies. Commentators noted that the family sent him to a therapist when a family pet died. He dropped out of high school at age sixteen. He had a history of identifying with other racial and ethnic groups. In high school, he read the autobiography of Malcolm X, and he reportedly identified with the story. Lindh listened to rap music and once pretended to be African American in an e-mail. He converted to Islam, and adopted the Arabic name Suleyman. At seventeen, he decided to leave home and go to Yemen. Lindh briefly came back home to the United States, then traveled back to Pakistan where he attended an Islamic school. The school specialized in teaching the Koran and was known for providing soldiers to the Taliban in Afghanistan. President Bush even described Lindh as “some misguided Marin County hot-tubber” and as “a ‘poor fellow’ who was ‘misled.”’
When he was first captured, the media continuously showed Lindh's photograph with dirty long hair, a beard, and a dirty-almost-black face. Once he returned to the United States, Lindh sported a close-cropped haircut and was otherwise well scrubbed. At this point, he started to look like a suburban teenager, and his coverage became more sympathetic. Newsweek reported that to get a conviction of Lindh, the “prosecutors would at least have to show that [Walker] agreed with someone, somewhere and somehow, to kill Americans or aid al Qaeda. It now appears that the evidence on these counts . . . is somewhere between slim and none.” The story suggested that Lindh's confession was not clear-cut because the government's notes indicated that he was fighting for the Taliban and not al Qaeda. In addition, reports surfaced that the FBI apparently violated its own internal guidelines for interrogations by failing to have Lindh sign the statement or to have the confession recorded by video or audio tape.
The coup de grace and turning point for Lindh was the broadcast of his photograph while in military custody in Afghanistan. The photograph showed a naked, blindfolded, and bound Lindh. It was reported that he was kept in this condition for three days in a closed, metal shipping container. According to the media, Lindh was released from these conditions once he waived his rights to a lawyer and made a more damning confession; surgeons removed a bullet lodged in his leg only after he renounced his legal rights and signed the new confession. In court papers, Lindh's lawyers claimed that he pleaded with U.S. troops, “[p]lease don't kill me,” when they took him to a U.S. military base.
On July 15, 2002, in a surprise deal, Lindh pleaded guilty to two felony charges and agreed to serve twenty years in prison. Providing services to the Taliban was a felony because President Bush and former President Clinton, by executive order, had declared it a terrorist organization. Lindh admitted his guilt, saying “I provided services as a soldier to the Taliban last year and in the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades.” The New York Times described Walker Lindh's appearance: “Mr. Lindh appeared wan and gangly. His dark hair was cropped short, and he looked more like a teenager one might see at a suburban mall than the unkempt, wild-eyed and bearded Taliban soldier seen in news photographs taken shortly after his capture.” The prosecutors described the deal “an important victory for the people of the United States in the battle against terrorism,” and “a tough sentence and an appropriate punishment.”
Lindh's father, Frank Lindh, was quoted as saying “President Bush would be proud to have him as a son. He's a really good kid.” He also compared his son to Nelson Mandela. He said, “I told John when he came back from Afghanistan . . . that Nelson Mandela served 26 years in prison. He's a good man like John. I told John that he needed to be prepared for something along those lines.”
C. Comparison of the Media Coverage of Bishop and Lindh
In comparing the media coverage of Charles Bishop and John Walker Lindh, the ways in which media coverage was altered to mirror perceived changes in the individuals' racial identities is striking. Charles Bishop, who was first thought to be white, had the typical “what went wrong with his upbringing?” coverage until it was discovered that he was half-Syrian. At that time, his coverage became less favorable, and his ethnicity became sufficient explanation for his crime. In contrast, John Walker Lindh was initially described as the American Taliban who fought against the United States in Afghanistan. The media repeatedly showed a photograph of Lindh with long dark hair, a beard, and a face darkened by dirt. He was dubbed “The American Taliban,” and his darkened features made him appear to be something other than a white American. Once the media started showing pictures of Lindh with shortened hair and a clean face, it became clear that he was white. At that point, his coverage became more favorable. Some members of the media empathized with him and began to compare him to their children. The media coverage of Lindh's plea agreement was also very tame. There was hardly any controversy surrounding his plea agreement even though he was the first and most visible person to date to be sentenced. Given the nature of his offense, one would think more controversy and outrage might have resulted from his twenty-year sentence. Some would have argued that the sentence is too short or too long, or that Lindh should have been condemned to die. Because of the intense media interest in the events of September 11th, one might have expected that the coverage of Lindh's plea bargain would be more extensive. Apparently, the American public was not troubled by or interested in a plea bargain involving a young, white, middle-class American, who fought as a Taliban warrior.
D. Zacarius Moussaoui
The media continue to describe Zacarius Moussaoui as the alleged 20th hijacker, despite the fact that a different man, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, has publicly claimed that he was meant to be the 20th hijacker. Moussaoui now faces six counts of conspiracy (four of them carry the death penalty). When announcing Moussaoui's indictment, Attorney General John Ashcroft said: “[a]l Qaeda will now meet the justice it abhors and the judgment it fears.” He also called the indictment “a chronicle of evil.” Even though Moussaoui's life may be at stake, the media have portrayed the upcoming trial as one of public entertainment. The New York Daily News quoted Court TV as stating, “[a]ny camera coverage is better than no camera coverage . . . and full camera coverage is better for the American public.”
Rather than ask what went wrong during Zacarius Moussaoui's upbringing, the media portrayed him as angry, crazy, evil, foreign, stupid, and difficult. It was reported that the FBI found evidence that Moussaoui received $14,000 in cash from an al Qaeda operative who organized the September 11th attack, in Hamburg, Germany. After Moussaoui's detention for an immigration violation, France reportedly told United States authorities that he was a “known Islamic militant.” It was also reported that when he flew over the ruins of the World Trade Center, Moussaoui allegedly yelled “F--k you! F--k you, America!”
After meeting with Moussaoui for two hours, a court-appointed psychiatrist found that he did not appear to have a “major mental disease or defect” and “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty knowingly and voluntarily waive[d] his right to counsel.” Moussaoui fired his court-appointed lawyers and said to the court: “America, I'm ready to fight you . . . even with both hands tied behind my back.” In court, he reportedly “rolled his eyes” while his lawyers were speaking and distanced himself from them at the defense table. He said that he “would never contact his [court-appointed] lawyers” because he believed that they were “part of a plot against him.” He called his lawyers the “Death Team.” He reportedly requested a Muslim lawyer because he said that the court-appointed lawyers were not following his instructions. Moussaoui has been prevented from handpicking Charles Freeman, a Muslim, as his legal adviser. Instead, Judge Brinkema ordered the court-appointed lawyers to remain on stand-by in case they were needed, and encouraged Moussaoui to work with Muslim lawyer, Sadiq Reza, who teaches at New York Law School. Moussaoui has used Professor Reza as a go-between with his court-appointed lawyers. Moussaoui has called his court-appointed lawyers “blood suckers,” and has said that “[a]s protection [from] any pig disease there will be no more unsanitized contact with the affected horde of standby lawyers . . . .”
On July 18, 2002, after a new indictment was issued designed to allow Moussaoui to receive the death penalty, Judge Brinkema asked him how he would like to plead. At that time, Moussaoui tried to enter a “pure plea,” in which he acknowledged participation in a terrorist group since 1995. The judge described the defendant as “confused,” and told him only a plea of guilty or innocent was acceptable. Judge Brinkema announced that she would enter a plea of “not guilty” for him, despite Moussaoui's insistence that he fully understood the implications of his plea. Indeed, he acknowledged that he was a member of al Qaeda, had joined in terrorist attacks, and pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden. The media reported that Moussaoui said, “I, Moussaoui Zacarius, in the interests to preserve life, enter with full conscience a plea of guilty, because I have knowledge and participated in al Qaeda.” At the same time, he contended that he was not directly involved in the September 11th terrorist plot. It has been reported that he described himself as a “slave to Allah,” and he has denounced the American justice system.
Both the New York Times and the New York Daily News quoted Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers as saying: “have we figured out yet that he's insane?” The lawyers were described as laughing with disbelief as Moussaoui left the hearing. When questioned about a report that Chechen fighters had rejected Moussaoui's services, a member of the defense team mused, “[w]ho wants him around? He brought nothing to the table. He's trouble.” Moussaoui claimed that his court-appointed counsel were “trying to kill him to keep him from revealing” undisclosed secrets. He also accused Judge Brinkema of conspiracy with Federal government to execute him. He said that the letter “B” in the acronym “FBI” stood for “Brinkema.” He called her the “Death Judge.” Moussaoui accused Judge Brinkema of preparing him “for the gas chamber,” exclaiming to her: “[t]his is an outrageous prosecution . . . . This is a parody . . . .” He also reportedly prayed for the destruction of America and Israel.
Judge Brinkema gave Moussaoui one week to reconsider his guilty plea. On July 25, 2002 Moussaoui withdrew his guilty plea, stating: “[d]ictated by my obligation to my creator Allah, and to save my life, I withdraw my guilty plea.” He told the judge “you want to tie me, to link me to certain facts that will guarantee my death.” He maintained that, although he may have had some association with the September 11th hijackers, he had “nothing to do with the events of September 11th.”
From the outset, the media's depiction of Moussaoui has been very negative. He is described as bearded, wearing a green jumpsuit with the word “prisoner” written on the back. The New York Daily News described Moussaoui as a “diminutive French-born Moroccan frequently pip[ing] up with strange interjections in a strangled Inspector Clouseau accent that prompt[s] titters in the audience.” The New York Post noted Moussaoui's “ungrammatical English.” The New York Daily News has also portrayed Moussaoui as “a small, husky man with an unruly black beard.”
The descriptions of his behavior since he has been incarcerated have been even worse. The New York Daily News described Moussaoui as “wacky.” It reported that he “has filed numerous legal briefs that can only be described as nutty.” Also, it noted that most of Moussaoui's sixty motions to Judge Brinkema since June 14th “read like Saturday Night Live skits.” In contrast, the Washington Post has described his motions as “autobiographical tract[s] written in legalese . . . [that] . . . are sometimes rambling and discursive, yet with threads of logic and flashes of brilliance.” The New York Post detailed Moussaoui as a “bizarre-behaving French Moroccan.” He has been called “abrasive.” He also has been described as “fidget[ing] in his chair, strok[ing] his beard, and mumbl[ing] to himself.”
Moussaoui's mother blames radical fundamentalists for her son's situation. His brother, Abd Samar, claimed that, while living in London, Moussaoui became “racist and anti-white.” Moussaoui's mother reportedly last saw her son in 1996. She was denied a chance to visit her son in prison, and the New York Daily News reported, “[t]he FBI insisted an agent monitor the conversation.” His mother has been reported as saying that her son “is not prepared to defend himself.” She has said: “[m]y son is incapable of making decisions after months of imprisonment.” She has “asked the French government to send a lawyer to handle her son's case.” She reportedly wept when he entered the court for a hearing. It was reported that the United States tried to get Moussaoui's mother to cooperate with the prosecution.
Since his incarceration, it has been reported that “Moussaoui can't have batteries, or pencils, or any hot tea or coffee.” He has been held in solitary confinement, under severe security conditions. He cannot talk to other prisoners, all his phone conversations are taped and he must speak English with his lawyers--unless he uses an FBI translator. All visitors, including his court-appointed attorneys, must undergo FBI clearance. When prison officials found hardened food in his Alexandria, Virginia jail cell, they labeled it contraband because they believed it could be used as a weapon.”
Media coverage of Moussaoui highlights an aspect of his identity that intersects race, national origin, and religion. The media point out that he is a French citizen of Moroccan ancestry. Reporters probably raise his ancestry in a manner of explanation because most people think that French citizens are white, and Moussaoui's picture looks black. In addition, the media attention also highlights Moussaoui's North African ancestry to make the connection, albeit loosely, to the Middle East.
Despite the fact that Ramzi bin al-Shibh claims to be the “20th Hijacker,” reporters insist on calling Moussaoui the “20th Hijacker,” apparently having made their own judgment as to his guilt. Like the coverage of people of African descent, the media fail to present any evidence that would rationalize or explain his alleged criminal activity. The media have failed to give the whole picture of the Moussaoui situation. Although he has a master's degree from Southbank University in international business, there has been scant coverage of what Moussaoui did for employment or education before coming to the United States. When his education is mentioned, Southbank University is almost dismissed as a trade school. Judge Brinkema reportedly said that Moussaoui was “smart” because he has a master's degree. However, the media's focus on his “ungrammatical English” suggests his “foreignness” and his lack of intelligence or education.
The discussion of Moussaoui's upbringing has also been limited. When it is discussed, it is used to demonstrate that he is responsible for “derailing” his family's immigrant success story. Moreover, the explanation for this “derailment” is Moussaoui's association with radical fundamentalist Islam. There has been no discussion of whether he has any prior criminal history. The fact that his prior history has not been raised suggests that he has no prior criminal record. Instead, the media tie him to his involvement with al Qaeda. While this tie is probably justifiable, the media fails to provide specific details. In addition, reporters have failed to provide balanced coverage by asking whether his membership in al Qaeda and his Islamic faith are enough to establish his guilt in conspiring to the acts of September 11th. This question should be the basis for any discussion of Moussaoui because it is the same question the jury will have to decide.
Since the media cannot latch onto a dysfunctional family or criminal past, they instead portray Moussaoui as crazy and anti-American. They suggest that he is paranoid because he thinks the judge is in cahoots with the government. He calls his court-appointed lawyers the “Death Team” and fires them because he believes that they will not properly represent him. His lawyers laugh at him in open court. Media coverage seems to suggest that Moussaoui is intentionally making a mockery of the judicial proceedings by attempting to plead guilty and then reneging on that plea. After all, he is “wacky” and “erratic” and his pleadings read like “Saturday Night Live” skits.
Importantly, the media fail to emphasize incidents that might support some of Moussaoui's contentions. He was, for example, denied the assistance of the lawyer of his choosing, the Muslim Charles Freeman. And he is the only September 11th defendant whose indictment allows the death penalty. There has been only slight reference and brief mention of a family history of mental illness. Similarly, few attempts have been made to explain that Moussaoui is not a lawyer, that legal proceedings can be very complicated, and that a person who is not a lawyer might have difficulty with understanding the proceedings. Even if Moussaoui understood the nature of legal proceedings, he is a French citizen, and France has a different legal system than the United States.
The media portray Moussaoui's mother as powerless. She cannot visit him in prison unless her conversations are monitored. She is described to have been weeping when he appeared in court. She has to petition the French government in an attempt to help her son. In contrast, Lindh's father procured cracker-jack lawyers to represent his son and appeared on many television news programs making the case for his son. Moussaoui's mother is depicted as emotionally distant from her son since she has not seen him since 1996. However, no effort has been made to explore how commonplace that may be in many immigrant communities wherein relatives are overseas, and money is tight.
E. Richard Reid
The media have labeled Richard Reid, a mixed-race British citizen, the “shoe-bomber.” He has been charged with attempted murder and faces a maximum sentence of five life terms in prison. Reid allegedly wore silver and black boots packed with high-tech explosives that would have destroyed a jetliner with 197 people aboard. The bomb was specially constructed without wires or metal, allowing it to pass without detection through airport security. The metal detectors and scanning machines for checked luggage are not sophisticated enough to identify plastic explosives.
The media asked the question: how did “a onetime petty thief with no job and no fixed address somehow manage to find the resources for international travel and the know-how to make a sophisticated explosive that fooled even the stringent Paris airport security check?” Authorities speculated that Reid trained with al Qaeda and was following orders. Investigators are trying to link him to al Qaeda terror suspects based in Europe. European authorities speculated that Reid stayed at a house in Belgium and met with someone named “The Engineer.” It is believed that “The Engineer” is an expert in making explosives and designed and built the shoe bombs. Inside the boots, investigators found a strand of hair and palm prints that were not Reid's.
On December 20, 2001, Richard Reid wrote an e-mail to his mother stating “[w]hat I am doing is part of the ongoing war between Islam and disbelief, (and as such it is a duty upon me as a Muslim).” He also wrote:
The reason for me sending you [this will] is so you can see that I didn't do this act out of ignorance, nor did I just do it because I want to die, but rather because I see it as a duty upon me to help remove the oppressive American forces from the Muslim land and that this is the only way for us to do so as we do not have other means to fight them.” Reid's white mother, Lesley Hughes, issued a statement through her lawyer: “[a]s any mother would be, she is deeply shocked and concerned about the allegations made against her son, but has no further comment to make.” Richard Reid's African Caribbean father, Robin Reid, reportedly sold his story to a British tabloid. Robin Reid was in prison when his son was born and reportedly was a distant figure in his son's life. Robin Reid acknowledged his lack of involvement in his son's life, and specifically said, “[l]ook at the terrible childhood he had . . . . Look at the father he had. I have spent 18 years in total behind bars. That can't have helped, can it? Every time he needed me, I was nowhere to be found.” Although attending a reasonably well-regarded secondary school in London, Reid dropped out of school soon after his sixteenth birthday. From 1992 to 1996, Reid was in and out of jail. He was involved in petty crime such as muggings, robberies, and shoplifting.
The Washington Post described Richard Reid as “a London pickpocket and mugger” who was a “major-league hell-raiser.” The article noted:
[h]is record depicts an angry, combative inmate who got into so many fights he had to be transferred twice. When the same man walked out of prison in 1996, he seemed completely changed. He had a new name--he called himself Abdel Rahim--and a strong but quiet devotion to a new faith, Islam.
It was reported that Reid became attracted to a radical sect of Islam and traveled to Pakistan for training, before traveling to Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. In late December, Reid was in Paris at a cyber café sending e-mails. The owner remembers Reid as being “big” (Reid is six feet, four inches tall) and “a little bit dirty.” The Washington Post has described Reid as a “hulking, and unkempt man who weighs about 220 pounds.” The newspaper has also described him during one of his courtroom appearances as being “disheveled and clad in tan prison attire.”
Recently, the court decided Reid had been read his rights before he spoke to investigators after he was detained. At the time, Reid reportedly said “he decided to choose an American target after the United States began bombing the Taliban in Afghanistan.” He reportedly “[c]laimed to have chosen to attack an airplane because he believed an airplane attack, especially during the holiday season, would cause the American public to lose confidence in airline security and stop traveling, leading to a substantial loss of revenue which would, in turn, hurt the American economy.” At the time of his arrest, Reid also reportedly told federal agents that he would plead guilty “if you get the charges right.” Reid's lawyers contend that his alleged confession should not be admitted into evidence because he was under the influence of Valium administered by the passengers on the airplane to subdue him.
Reid has pleaded guilty to charges against him. His attorneys have explained Reid's guilty plea as an effort “to avoid publicity associated with a trial and the negative impact . . . upon his family.” Reid called the thwarted attack, “an act of war.” He said: “[b]asically, I got on the plane with the bomb . . . . Basically I got on, I tried to ignite it.” Reid attempted to get the allegations that he trained with al Qaeda removed from his indictment, but Chief Judge William G. Young rejected his request, and ordered that these charges be considered in Reid's sentencing. In response to the judge's decision, Reid stated: “yeah, I understand that and I don't care; I am a member of al Qaeda. I have pledged to Osama bin Laden, and I am an enemy of your country and I don't care. Simple and plain.”
Reid's media coverage highlights a perception of his identity that intersects race, national origin, biracial background, and religion. The media point out that he is a British citizen of biracial background. Like African American suspects, the media focus on Reid's prior record to suggest that he is bad. The stories focus on other criminal behavior by members of his family. For instance, his African-Caribbean father was imprisoned for eighteen years, and was, in fact, in prison when Reid was born. Unlike the typical coverage of African Americans, the media coverage of Reid suggests some explanation for his behavior--dysfunction in his family life because his father was emotionally unavailable to Reid. However, the stories only suggest dysfunction by his African-Caribbean father; no mention is made of his white mother's possible dysfunction. She was, after all, involved with a man who was imprisoned. In addition, his white mother was the one who raised Reid. The stories seem deferential to Reid's mother.
As noted, articles describe Reid as “a petty thief,” “a London Pickpocket and mugger,” or a “major league hell-raiser.” These depictions of Reid's criminal background seem much tamer than the usual descriptions of African American defendants who are often described as generally bad. These descriptions also seem tame given the significant direct evidence that Reid attempted to detonate a bomb on an airplane. Unlike other September 11th defendants, the media portrayed Reid's prison-conversion to Islam in a positive manner. The media described Reid as having “a strong but quiet devotion to a new faith, Islam.” It was only after this initial conversion that he fell into some radical sect. Reid, like Moussaoui, tried to plead guilty, but the media have not called Reid's actions “wacky” or “erratic.”
Reid's media coverage is somewhat atypical in comparison to other African American alleged perpetrators. It seems that the media are cognizant of his biracial heritage and, as a consequence, Reid's portrayal has been “whitened.” In addition, Reid is a citizen of Great Britain, which is perceived to be largely a white country, which has an intimate historical link to the United States. Great Britain is also one of the most reliable allies of the United States. Consequently, Reid is more advantaged on the racial hierarchy than Moussaoui. First, Reid is biracial and has a white mother. Second, Reid's direct African ancestors are from a more distant generation than Moussaoui's. Reid's father was from Jamaica, but Moussaoui's parents were from Morocco. Finally, Reid is a British citizen, and Great Britain is culturally more similar to the United States than France. As such, Reid's media portrayal is more “white” than Moussaoui.
Although Reid's media coverage may have been whitened, it has not prevented the media from relying on some old stereotypes. For instance, the media portrayed Reid as dumb. They called him an al Qaeda “B-team” member, suggesting that he is not as smart as the September 11th hijackers. He may not be smart, but he did get on the plane and almost accomplished his plan to blow it up. In addition, the media emphasize his physicality. Stories discuss that he is large, in that he is six feet, four inches tall. This description is only relevant so as to emphasize the “heroic” effort of the passengers who subdued him on the plane.
F. Jose Padilla
The media have portrayed Jose Padilla as a street thug, and a terrorist who deserves to be held and deprived of civil rights and civil liberties. The media have reported on his past criminal record and have made judgments about it. In 1983 he pleaded guilty to robbery and was given probation. Two years later, he was convicted of two counts of murder, aggravated battery, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery--he was sentenced to a juvenile detention facility for two and one-half years. In October 1991, Padilla was arrested for pulling a gun and firing it at a driver during a traffic dispute. He returned to jail and was released in 1992. He also completed a substance abuse program.
President Bush has said, “[t]his guy Padilla's a bad guy, and he is where he needs to be--detained.” President Bush also said, “[w]e have a man detained who is a threat to the country and that thanks to the vigilance of our intelligence gathering and law enforcement he is now off the streets, where he should be . . . .” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated, “[o]ur interest is not in trying and punishing him. Our interest is in finding out what he knows.” Attorney General Ashcroft said “[t]he national security interests of the United States required that [Padilla] be detained by the Defense Department as an enemy combatant.” He described Padilla as an “al Qaeda operative [who] was planning future terrorist attacks on innocent American civilians in the United States.” By contrast, Padilla's lawyer points out “the evidence linking Padilla to the alleged ‘dirty bomb’ plot is weak at best.”
The New York Post reported that “Al Mujahir isn't some messed-up Marin County kid like John Walker Lindh. He's a hardened criminal named Jose Padilla who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago. He converted to Islam in prison during a stay in a Florida prison.” The New York Post called him “a former Chicago street gangster and ex-con.” The New York Daily News reported that Padilla was supposedly fooled by an on-line parody about how to build an H-bomb. The reporter speculated that since “al Qaeda has been scattered by the United States bombing of Afghanistan, it is now relying on its 'B-team' of would-be terrorists like the alleged 'shoe-bomber' Richard Reid.
The media also reported on Padilla's family. They noted Padilla moved from Brooklyn to Chicago when he was four years old. His mother is reported to have had five children by two different men. His biological father died when he was young. Padilla's mother, Estella, has had no contact with Padilla since 1998. Reportedly, she worried that he joined a cult. After his detainment, his mother posted a note on the door to her home stating, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” A sister, Delma Padilla, has said that Padilla “was coming to the Unites States to visit his kids--not to plan a massive terrorist attack . . . .” Former neighbors indicated that they found it “hard to believe” that he was a terrorist. “He was obedient, respectful, he did his chores, watched television, he was just your average kid . . . .”
As discussed, Padilla is Puerto Rican; he comes from a racial and ethnic group that the media have historically stereotyped. Consequently, unlike Moussaoui and Reid, the media invoke the stereotype of a “brown brute.” The media portray Padilla as a hardcore street thug not entitled to constitutional protections. They compare him unfavorably to Lindh, who is just “messed up,” whereas Padilla is a “hardened criminal.” President Bush called Padilla a “bad guy.” Like other African Americans or Latinos, the media reported extensively on his past criminal background and made judgments about it. However, the media fail to explain how being a former street thug is related to being an international terrorist.
Padilla's family history is also discussed but not as a means to rationalize or explain his behavior as was done in the case of Walker Lindh or initially for Bishop--it is discussed as a means of showing his dysfunction. His biological father died when he was very young, and his mother had five children by two different men. His mother is portrayed as being distant and having very little contact with him. Padilla is also portrayed as being on al Qaeda's “B-team” thereby suggesting that he, like Reid, is stupid. He was supposedly fooled by an on-line parody on how to make a bomb. Unlike Lindh's father, Padilla's mother is portrayed as helpless. His mother left a note on the door of her home pleading that “her family be left alone.”
The media depictions of Charles Bishop, John Walker Lindh, Zacarius Moussaoui, Richard Reid, and Jose Padilla have varied in accordance with their perceived whiteness and darkness. To the extent an individual's identity was racially ambiguous, the coverage was tempered by his nation of origin and his biracial status. The coverage also varied based upon where these men fell on the spectrum of appearance, race, place of origin, and religion. Once it became clear that Lindh was white and, when the media thought that Bishop was white, they received the most favorable coverage. Reid's coverage seems tempered by the circumstances of his arrest and his alleged crime. His better-than-expected coverage is probably the result of his biracial background and British citizenship. Moussaoui's coverage is bad but not as bad as it could be. Again, his treatment by the media is probably the result of his status as a French citizen, but of Moroccan ancestry. Padilla, who is an American Puerto Rican, has suffered under the worst coverage because he conforms to a known American stereotype. These stereotypes and the media coverage related to them have an effect on how all people of color are viewed.
The events of September 11th raise many interesting issues as to racial profiling, the media, and society. First, due to national security concerns, the United States may be slipping into a “white-against-everyone-else” paradigm, where all people of color will be lumped together and will be suspected of being terrorists, tempered by national origin, biracial heritage, and religion. Recent government pronouncements indicate that the next terrorist is likely to not going to be an Arab face, but instead to be an Asian or African one. In addition, racial profiling of all people of color is more likely to occur because of the racial ambiguity and misidentification of the recently arrested post-September 11th perpetrators.
Racial profiling of all people of color will make it easier for authorities because they will not have to discern the differences between and among different racial groups in the United States. American citizens have been deputized to help ferret out future terrorist activities. This deputizing will lead to further racial profiling. Since the American public generally believes that those with dark skin are more likely to be violent than whites, they are likely to look upon anyone with non-white skin as a possible terrorist. Also, because the profiling will be justified on the ground of national security, the national security norm will trump the color-blind norm. Importantly, the first persons captured for allegedly planning or attempting to carry out additional terrorist attacks in the United States have been men of African or Latino descent--this phenomenon suggests that law enforcement officials may be too willing to rely on their traditional arsenal of racial profiles, while possibly overlooking dangerous perpetrators.
Second, racial profiling is directly related to the media depictions of people of color. For perpetrators who are racialized as white, the news media and society presume that they are inherently good and that something bad happened to cause them to do wrong; maybe they experienced bad parenting or even took an acne medication that caused serious psychological side-effects. For those racialized as being of African descent, however, the news media and society presume that they are generally bad with no mitigation for their behavior. Before September 11th, individuals with olive-complexions and those of Middle Eastern ancestry were stereotyped by the news media and society as a blend of two extremes--the positive stereotype of royal oil millionaire and the negative image of the fanatical terrorist. Since September 11th, the negative stereotype has all but completely overpowered the positive stereotype. At the moment, this segment of the population has been “darkened” in the American public's mind.
Finally, racial ambiguity and misidentification have implications in terms of the media depictions of the individual perpetrators and racial groups. As noted above, the coverage of each perpetrator changed over time to mirror changing perceptions of each man's “racialized identity.”
. Professor of Law, St. John's University School of Law, Jamaica, New York; B.S., New York University; J.D.-M.B.A., Columbia Universit