THE BLOG

Brown Lives Matter, Muslim Lives Matter

03/10/2015 06:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

Brown lives matter, and Muslim lives matter. And homegrown domestic terrorism is a crisis which should concern us all, though not the type you might think.

Within the course of several days, three acts of violence underscore the problem facing people of color beyond the African-American community. On February 6, an Indian grandfather named Sureshbhai Patel, 57, was slammed to the ground for no reason and left paralyzed by a Madison, Alabama police officer. Patel, who speaks no English, was in the area to care for his grandson, who was born prematurely. This came after reports from a neighbor that a "skinny black guy" was wandering in the white suburban community. The officer was arrested.

Meanwhile, on February 10, three Muslim students-- Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her 19-year-old sister, Razan Abu-Salha -- were gunned down by Craig Stephen Hicks in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Hicks, who was hailed on social media as a hero for killing Muslims, reportedly had an arsenal of two shotguns, seven rifles and four handguns.

And that same day, an unarmed Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, a Mexican national, was killed by Pasco, Washington police in an execution style shooting. Mr. Zambrano-Montes was unarmed, and did not understand English. He was shot dead after reportedly throwing rocks at the officers.

These tragic incidents received a mere fraction of the attention they should have. While the focus of late has been on #BlackLivesMatter, it is important to address the violence visited upon other groups, including religious and ethnic minority groups -- whether by terrorists, vigilantes or police who believe they have a right to monitor and take not only black lives, but brown lives as well.

On the one hand, America has a domestic terrorism problem. The vast majority of mass shooters in this country are white males. And while the majority of violent crimes are committed by whites--and white-on-white crime is a problem no one discusses--predominantly black and brown bodies fill the prisons and the death rows of America.

And on the other hand, as America focuses on a threat from ISIS, our terrorism problem is of a homegrown, non-Islamic nature. According to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, most acts of terrorism since 9-11 have involved "lone wolves" involving no more than two people, and mostly those who were not Muslim.

This is not to downplay the threat posed by ISIS. But in a country such as the United States, with its potent mixture of racism, violence and instability, there is, unfortunately, enough bloodshed to go around. After all, with more than 300 million guns, and mass shootings a regular, anticipated occurrence, America is the most violent of the advanced nations. Gun-related suicide is a crisis among white men, and gun-related homicide is a leading cause of death among black men. And there is nothing normal about the reality of violence in the land of the free, which stems from a legacy of slavery and dehumanization of the "other" and a radicalized gun culture, with an extremist gun lobby that has allied with patriot groups and militias and now advocates for such alarming policies as open carry. How can we allow armed people in schools and churches, then claim that the real threat to our safety is thousands of miles away? Rather, the threat to America is internal.

In addition, America exports its violence abroad. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called America the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." He understood the links between the war in Vietnam and violence, oppression and injustice here at home. If we are to effectively address violence, we must understand its origins. For example, President Bush might as well have created ISIS himself with the disruption he created through the senseless Iraq War.

Further, violence in the U.S. has been normalized and racialized. With its war on drugs, the nation has declared a war on communities of color and has engineered the world's largest prison population. The time-tested stereotypes suggest that black people are criminals and thugs, and brown people are terrorists or gangbangers, while white folks who commit crimes are troubled, possibly mentally ill or drug dependent. Only people of color are forced to apologize for the criminals in their midst, or rather, apologize for the racial stereotypes that govern how their group is criminalized. Never would anyone have entertained the notion of sending all white Christian men back to Europe for the crimes of lynching or mass shootings. And yet, there is serious discussion somewhere about sending "those" people -- whether Latino, or Muslim, or Arab, or what have you--back "home" because they are perceived as a criminal element because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or their faith.

And certainly, law enforcement are not immune from the racism and racial violence of the greater society. FBI director James B. Comey was correct to challenge law enforcement to face the "hard truths" of racism in policing, and he should be applauded. However, society must understand that these hard truths are not merely attitudinal or concerning a few, individual bad apples, but a matter of policy and history. "There is a reason that I require all new agents and analysts to study the FBI's interaction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to visit his memorial in Washington as part of their training," Comey said. "And there is a reason I keep on my desk a copy of Attorney General Robert Kennedy's approval of J. Edgar Hoover's request to wiretap Dr. King."

The FBI has waged wars against people of color, with the intent to destroy black leaders such as Dr. King and Malcolm X, and civil rights groups such as the NAACP, the Black Panther Party and SCLC. But the agency also waged war against brown organizations such as the Young Lords--a Puerto Rican nationalist group -- and the American Indian Movement. Today, police monitoring of Muslim Americans is a serious concern. Only recently, the NYPD disbanded its suspicionless surveillance program, which targeted Muslim communities and their leaders, students, mosques, organizations and businesses in New York and elsewhere. And even now, law enforcement continues to battle communities of color, as a pushback against the #BlackLivesMatter movement and activism around police brutality and stop and frisk. A prime example is the call by NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton to make resisting arrest a felony.

If the U.S. is really serious about combating "terrorism," then it must do so without regard to who is committing the violence, and who are the victims. Brown lives matter, and all lives matter, too.