Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics


H.R. 963: The 'See a Minority, Report a Terrorist' Act of 2011?

Photo Credit: Capitol Hill by Elliott P., cc by 2.0

 

On July 20, 2011, the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 963: The See Something, Say Something Act of 2011, an amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 that aims to "provide immunity for reports of suspected terrorist activity or suspicious behavior and response."

In testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Lawrence Haas, Senior Fellow for the American Foreign Policy Council, stated:

As recent history has shown clearly, the nation needs the eyes and ears of all of its people if, collectively, we are to protect the homeland from terrorist attack. This is a job not just for government but for each and every one of us. We simply must ensure that our people and our officials can make good faith efforts to do their part without fear that these efforts will be turned against them in the form of lawsuits from disgruntled parties. Anything less will weaken our homeland security while exposing well-intentioned people and officials to unfair risk to their finances and their reputations.

But while it's uncontroversial that individuals should be able to communicate freely with law enforcement, there's no evidence that they aren't doing so already. Even with 9/11, the problem was Washington bureaucracy rather than a lack of tips. And as US Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) states in the YouTube video below, there is nothing in the wording of this legislation to discourage racial profiling of certain minority communities, which apart from being unreliable, also alienates the very communities that "law enforcement counts on for terrorism tips and may well undermine counter-terrorism efforts at home."




The approval of this legislation by the Judiciary Committee, and endorsement of it by representatives such as Peter King (R-NY), is especially troubling when considering the unprecedented increase of discrimination and hate crimes against Arab American and South Asian American communities post 9/11, and how discrimination against Muslim Americans has become increasingly institutionalized. Perhaps the most ironic incident of racial profiling is the one described above by Rep. Judy Chu, when two Sikh civil rights advocates, due to give a presentation on Capitol Hill about personal experiences with post-9/11 discrimination, were stopped and questioned by the police following a tip that two men of Middle Eastern appearance were acting suspiciously.

Feisal Mohamed writes, "We should be immediately skeptical of any act extending immunity from the law, criminal or civil, and the language of this act does little to assuage that skepticism. What exactly is an 'objectively reasonable suspicion?' The phrase is terminally vague in its avoidance of placing any burden of material evidence upon the person to whom it confers immunity."

As it stands, the legislation can prevent individuals from recovering any of the personal and professional costs from being wrongly accused. This will not only lead to further discrimination against certain minority communities, it will also do little to address threats to national security. The Sikh Coalition states, "the warm embrace the bill received in the House Judiciary Committee underscores the ease with which legislators can discard our most basic civil rights." And as the documented rise in American right wing extremist groups and the attack on Norway demonstrate, racial profiling can often lead law enforcement to ignore more pressing and immediate threats to public safety. It would be tragically ironic if the next terrorist plot once again failed to be thwarted because of Washington bureaucracy, which these days seems to deem it more important to monitor and question turban-wearing civil rights advocates.

For this reason, Rep. Judy Chu has proposed an amendment that "if a person contacts law enforcement about something based solely on someone's race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, they would not receive immunity from civil lawsuits."

H.R. 963 can be tracked here as it goes through Congress.

3 comments

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LTE wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

Is there a militia man hiding under your bed?

The formatting was lost in my original post. I am a victim of a vast left wing conspiracy.
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"It wouldn't open anyone up to an expensive legal challenge; it would continue to allow the possibility of a civil suit for anyone"
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You contradicted yourself.
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"You're following a line of supposition that has never happened in reality (no one who's ever given credible evidence has ever been successfully sued"
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The threat of a lawsuit is a common practice. One does not have to have a super solid case to start a lawsuit. The point is to cause an expense, sometimes to teach a lesson or force a point. Think of the great $54 million dollar pants lawsuit that occurred in Washington, DC. A black judge ran a Korean dry cleaner through the wringer (no pun intended) simply because he could. Before it was all over and the case was thrown out, the dry cleaners suffered large financial losses.
Chu's bill give you a nice set of additional options.
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"Effectively, the people who argue against Representative Chu are saying, let's pretend there is no problem with racism and racial profiling"
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Chu's bill just forces some people to become better liars. The bill from the King Committee is both broad and universal while not creating special classes like the Chu bill. Her approach is we're all equal, but some are more equal than others, See Something just says it's not nice to lie, period. The See Something bill is less flashy but it does put everyone on the same playing field. Chu is looking for campaign donations while making a race play. I bet we find CAIR and the American Bar Association on her donor list.
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"Right-Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment", before you dismiss concerns of such as being diversionary and emotional."
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The they did it too argument is pretty weak. At this point in time you have a far greater chance of getting shot by a Muslim in Ft Worth, Texas than you do by a Neo Nazi in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You have a far greater chance of getting injured while drinking your latte at a side walk cafe by roving gangs in Wisconsin, Philadelphia, Chicago or London, England than you have in some some backwoods Idaho town.
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The DHS report was amusing in the sense it was written to excite more than to explain. It was hard to take seriously and pretty much a waste of tax payers dollars (which could have been used more effectively dealing with inner city crime).

LTE wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

You Better See No Evil, Report No Evil

The bill states anyone who knowingly reports someone based on false information or reckless disregard for the truth is not exempted from liability. . Judy Chu's amendment would negate that by effectively opening anyone up to an expensive legal challenge. If in good faith you report someone wearing a turban the turban wearer's lawyer(s) could go after you on the pretext you had something against turban wearers, even if they knew you had made a good faith report (it costs a fortune to prove good faith). Effectively, the people who are against this bill are saying, let's pretend there are no problems with Muslim extremists, so no need to worry. If you do worry, you better lawyer up first. . The Right Wing militia argument is a diversionary, emotional one and has nothing to do with Muslim based terrorism which is a world wide problem on a major scale. While it is sad good people get sucked into the violent image vortex created by the radicals, there is no reason to think the radical activity will not increase in the United States so some will have to put up with being inconvenienced. . The Chu amendment should be called the Legal Industry Full Employment Act of 2011.

Kirti Kamboj wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

The bill states anyone who

The bill states anyone who knowingly reports someone based on false information or reckless disregard for the truth is not exempted from liability. . Judy Chu's amendment would negate that by effectively opening anyone up to an expensive legal challenge.

It wouldn't open anyone up to an expensive legal challenge; it would continue to allow the possibility of a civil suit for anyone who reports individuals as terrorists based solely on their status as certain religious/racial minorities.


If in good faith you report someone wearing a turban the turban wearer's lawyer(s) could go after you on the pretext you had something against turban wearers, even if they knew you had made a good faith report (it costs a fortune to prove good faith).

You're following a line of supposition that has never happened in reality (no one who's ever given credible evidence has ever been successfully sued, and even in the incredible incident described in the article there was no suit) while ignoring what happens very frequently in reality: people wrongfully accused because of their religion/race/nationality having to prove their innocence. The latter is something that the passage of this legislation as it stands will only exacerbate.

Effectively, the people who are against this bill are saying, let's pretend there are no problems with Muslim extremists, so no need to worry.

Effectively, the people who argue against Representative Chu are saying, let's pretend there is no problem with racism and racial profiling, so no need to make clear that calling in a report based solely on someone's religion/nationality/race is not acceptable.

The Right Wing militia argument is a diversionary, emotional one and has nothing to do with Muslim based terrorism which is a world wide problem on a major scale.

I agree with you that groups such as Al-Qaeda pose a major worldwide problem, but I suggest that you read the Southern Poverty Law Center's reports on right-wing extremism, and perhaps also the Department of Homeland Security's 2009 report on "Right-Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment", before you dismiss concerns of such as being diversionary and emotional.

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About The Author

Kirti Kamboj

Kirti Kamboj was born in Mumbai, and while growing up also lived in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago. She worked as a researcher and a futures trader, before deciding to see what life would be like without staring at computer screens most of the day. That's also why she started blogging.

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