"Now if a Muslim woman strapped with a bomb on a bus with the seconds running give you the jitters, just imagine an American-based Christian organization planning to poison water supplies to bring the second-coming quicker"
- Lupe Fiasco, "American Terrorist," 2006.
One of the great honors of my life was a chance meeting with a diminutive woman named Vera Harris in Montgomery, Alabama. The widow of Dr. Richard Harris, who was a leading black businessman and pharmacist in Montgomery, we met over a decade ago while I was a seminarian visiting the city. During the days of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Dr. Harris' downtown pharmacy and lunch counter provided sanctuary to black passengers as they awaited pick up via a taxi system established by the Montgomery Improvement Association. In his book Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recalled Dr. Harris simultaneously filling prescriptions and calling in rides for his patrons.
The Harris family lives in a large, beautiful home just a few doors down from the old Dexter Avenue Baptist Church parsonage. The evening of January 30, 1956, Mrs. Harris was at home when she heard a loud explosion. She immediately knew what had taken place, and she raced from her home to the Dexter parsonage as a first responder to the act of terrorism that had just unfolded there. The parsonage had been bombed while Coretta Scott King, newborn daughter Yolanda, and a Dexter church member were inside. Dr. King, who was speaking at the weekly mass meeting, raced home as soon as he received the troubling news.
During our encounter, Mrs. Harris vividly recalled the days of the Montgomery Movement and the tensions and hostilities that filled the air. Yet, there was one remembrance that emerged for me as the most gripping. When I inquired about the first bombing of King's home, she stated matter-of-factly that the sound of bombs exploding across the city was a nightly occurrence. Many nights, Mrs. Harris laid her children down to the sickening sound of bombs detonating, not somewhere in the Middle East, but in America.
In recent days, a national debate has been waged as to whether or not Syrian refugees should be granted entry into the United States of America. Opponents, including the governors to several states, argue that members of ISIS posing as refugees could enter the nation and unleash the same terror recently released in Paris. God bless the dead.
Yet, in the wake of five protestors being shot while peacefully protesting the death of Jamar Clark near the Fourth Precinct police station in Minneapolis, it is once again revealed that the most longstanding and deadly terrorist groups in America have always operated under the banner of white supremacy. White supremacists have long terrorized our nation, especially the black community, and, as such, white supremacists continue to pose the greatest threat to our national security.
The mayor of Dallas (at whose nomination I serve as chair of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center of Dallas), the Honorable Michael S. Rawlings, made national headlines this week concerning the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Mayor Rawlings stated, "I am more fearful of large gatherings of white men that come into schools, theaters and shoot people up." As it relates to the legacy of terror in our nation, yes, even up to the present day, this remains a legitimate concern. From the Oklahoma City bombing twenty years ago to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, to Charleston, South Carolina, and many others places in between, white supremacy can be credited with inspiring more acts of terror upon American soil than any other philosophy.
It is well past time for shifting our nation's narrative concerning domestic acts of terrorism. For centuries, for whole communities of Americans, it is not unknown threats from without, but known threats from within that have remained the greatest concern. This is not to suggest that international terrorism is not real, or that there have been no legitimate threats to our nation. America owes a great debt of gratitude to the men and women who work tirelessly to intercept and eliminate proposed acts of terror upon our nation's soil.
Still, in the total conversation of and mobilization against terroristic threats to our national security, it is imperative that American terrorists are fully included in the discussion. If we do not properly acknowledge the presence of American terrorists, and the severity of their histories of violence, we will be grossly unprepared to protect our citizens from their heinous acts of terror in the present and in the future. If our political focus remains solely on international terrorists seeking to gain a foothold within our nation, we will continue to overlook the social climate that continues to produce terrorists on domestic soil.
In no way are ISIS members heroes to be celebrated. Much innocent blood is on their hands, and, for the sake of our international community, they must be brought to justice. May God bless the dead.
Still, to date, no ISIS member or Syrian refugee has ever bombed or planned to bomb a black church or home. Nor have they walked into a Bible Study in the basement of a black church and unleashed a hail of bullets. Neither are they at fault for the continuing epidemic of unarmed black men, women, boys, and girls murdered by police officers in the streets of America. They have not turned our communities into militarized zones, nor have black people mysteriously died in their prisons. God bless the dead.
In our seeking forth for justice, let us not overlook the terror long lurking inside our own doors. For whole communities of Americans, the greatest terrorist threat is not now trying to enter our country.
It has been here for a long time.