Roundtable: U.K. Race Profiling, U.S. Terrorism Fatwa

Friday's topics include racial profiling in Britain and an American Muslims group's new stance against terrorism. Guests: George Curry, editor-in-chief of The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist; and Randall Robinson, author of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's Roundtable, racial profiling, more controversy in Zimbabwe, and Sony in the midst of a payola scandal. Joining us today from our bureau in Chicago, Laura Washington of the Chicago Sun Times, she's a columnist there; Randall Robinson joins us, he's the author of "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks," he joins us via phone from St. Kitts; and Joe Davidson, editor at The Washington Post, he joins us from the nation's capital.

I thank you all for joining us. Let me ask you first, Joe Davidson. We are seeing quite a bit of activity from the London area. This, of course, based on the bombings over the last couple of weeks. We're seeing raids by London police. In New York City, we're seeing random bag checks, just the world that we live in. There are some who are suggesting because of that, we now need to accept that racial profiling may, in fact, be a good idea in the fight against terrorism. You say what to that?

Mr. JOE DAVIDSON (The Washington Post): Well, there's certainly that sentiment expressed in this country after 9/11. Now you might recall that there was a bill, and more than one bill, on Capitol Hill to outlaw racial profiling. The president and the attorney general at that time had come out in support of that legislation. But after 9/11, that legislation essentially disappeared from the legislative calendar, and it's not really come back in any significant form since. And at the time, there were clearly people who were saying that, `Yes, we don't want to do it, but it is understandable.' And I think that's the same kind of thing we're seeing in Britain today.

GORDON: Laura.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Chicago Sun Times): Well, you know, that comment about it being understandable is very troubling because the question it raises for me is understandable for who? The people who are likely to be targets of racial profiling of all kinds--people of color--are the ones who are on the firing line. We just recently had an incident in Chicago that, thank God, didn't turn out to be violent, where Reverend James Meeks, who was a prominent black minister here, president of Rainbow/PUSH, was stopped--the car he was riding in was stopped by a police officer. He got out to ask questions, and he was verbally assaulted by the police officer.

And this raised a whole debate here about conduct, and I think that is a key issue for me. Racial profiling is something that will continue. It's been prevalent in this country for many decades. I think we, as people of color, have to be vigilant about not only fighting racial profiling, but our own conduct. We have to be careful as you hear young people of color in Britain saying now, you know, `I'm not going to run from the police officers. I'm not going to make any sudden moves.' In the case of the minister here, `I'm not going to get out of my car and try to talk reason to a police officer with a gun.' Unfortunately, I think that the time has come where we have to really hunker down and be very careful about our own mortality because of this acceptance in many ways of racial profiling.

GORDON: Randall Robinson, put on the hat of the military of the police force, of government officials who are attempting to keep their people safe. Is there any room for the idea if you see a disproportionate amount of any particular group doing this kind of activity, perpetrating this kind of activity? Is there any room for justifiable racial profiling?

Mr. RANDALL ROBINSON (Author, "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks"): Well, in the case of the Brazilian electrician, the policeman shot him seven times in the head point-blank and once in the shoulder. I don't think there's any question that this was an excessive use of force. But even before 9/11, blacks in Britain were eight times more likely to be profiled. And Asians in Britain were five times more likely than whites to be treated in that way.

So racism has always been a problem in England, and now this relationship that has developed since 9/11 to somehow associate Islam with suicide bombings. Before 9/11, 60, 70 percent of the suicide bombings in the world had been committed in Sri Lanka, but it was never associated with Hinduism anymore than in Japan with Shintoism, where such terrorist acts have occurred. But we've identified now in the world suicide bombings with Muslims and without understanding that we're not going to stop terrorism in the world in this fashion. As long as there are American and British troops occupying Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, you're going to have terrorism. And...

Mr. DAVIDSON: I think it's...

Mr. ROBINSON: ...when Tony Blair says he sees no association, no relationship between this occupation and what is happening with respect to terrorism, one has to wonder about how he is thinking.

GORDON: Joe.

Mr. DAVIDSON: I think it's also worth pointing out, and this speaks to the issue of racial profiling more generally and not specifically to what's going on in Britain. But racial profiling has been found to be an ineffective law enforcement tool. There are studies that show that in--for the number of African-Americans stopped on our highways, they have a lower rate of hits, as law enforcement officials call them--in other words, finding something, some illegal material or substance or contraband than do for the number of hits on white motorists. So it is simply not an effective tool for law enforcement officers. And at the same time, it really has the effect of severely damaging the relationship between the African-American community and the law enforcement community.

GORDON: And probably, to a great degree, if we look at the zeal that is used by people who, in fact, perpetrate these kinds of acts and crimes, one would believe, Laura, that it would not serve as a deterrent to these people.

Ms. WASHINGTON: It probably won't serve as a deterrent overall, but it may change their practices, it may change their strategies. I think the thing that concerns me, though, again, are the people on the other end of these police operations. And I wonder about the--you know, the police operations say they have to do this profiling. It's something that's necessary. But the interesting thing that happened in Britain was that we found out that there was a shoot-to-kill order that resulted in that Brazilian's death that had been in place since September 11th. The general population didn't even know about it. It even had a code name, Operation Kratos. And that, in fact, police--many more police are carrying guns. In fact, figures show that 2,100 cops in Britain are already trained and able to carry guns. This was something that the general population did not know about, and it makes you wonder about, again, honesty and the transparency of the police policies.

GORDON: Let's move to a peripheral issue that is interesting and of growing concern to American Muslims here as we look at racial profiling. There is some concern, obviously, of backlash because many people, as Randall suggested, are associating Muslims and others in that region with suicide bombings and, quite frankly, most of the violence ofttimes unfounded to any given group. But what we are also seeing is a growing concern from American Muslim leaders that some of the youth in their community are being drawn to violence, and they're not really sure why because many of these parents now are sounding concern that these kids did not live in oppressed areas or areas that the zealous rhetoric has been exposed to them. Ofttimes, they lived here in the West and there is a growing thought by the general public in Great Britain that many of the people who are perpetrating the terrorist acts now are these children of parents who moved to London and other areas to get their children, quote, "away from that kind of thought."

Randall, is there a growing, a pervasive thought among young people who may not have grown up in the hot bed of that area but are now seeing through perhaps media, the Internet and the like more of this rhetoric and associating with it?

Mr. ROBINSON: That appears to be the case. They've not been absorbed or welcomed into British society. Their religion has not been put on a plain with the religion of the majority of the population. I think they feel under assault. They see the war in Iraq as a war against Islam. They feel seriously about that. Tony Blair met with, of course, Muslim leadership in Britain after the terrorism attack of a few weeks ago, but he met with the wrong people. He met with older Muslims, established, included Muslims and not with the--any representatives of the young people who embrace these tactics that they find disturbing. But at the same time, I can't say enough as long as--as regrettable as it may be, as long as the British and the Americans are perceived to be making war and occupying their lands, these people will attempt to make war against the British and the Americans. I mean, it seems to me an entirely predictable response.

GORDON: Joe, we see in Washington Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also had a meeting this past week with some Muslim leaders here in the United States who had that same concern about young people here.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, that's true and they've issued this fatwa against terrorism, an anti-terrorism fatwa issued by Muslim leaders in the United States. And I think that to some extent, that gives--not to some extent, but I think it really does show the kind of inconsistency among folks who try to label Islam a terroristic religion or terroristic organization even. There's a radio talk show host here in Washington, Michael Graham, who was suspended by WNAL-AM because he called--he described Islam as a whole a terrorist organization. My guess is he's not alone in that belief. But clearly, and it obviously shows some bias, I think, and as a result he was suspended. But this fatwa issued by Muslim organizations in this country I think is an attempt to let people know that the response to what the United States and Britain are doing overseas and the Middle East and elsewhere, as I think Randall pointed out, I think that's at the root of this for many people. Nonetheless, the Muslim leaders in this country are saying no matter what you think of those actions overseas, terrorist bombings or terrorist activity of any sort is not consistent with Islam.

GORDON: Laura.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, the interesting thing about the fatwa that Joe refers to is that it was issued by leadership, by academic leaders, by political leaders in the Muslim community, in America's Muslim community. And, again, we're talking about a generation gap, a disconnect between those folks who are very well intentioned, but I wonder how far--how deeply that sentiment or even that message goes into these communities, these Muslim communities among young people. There's a generation gap. Obviously, there's a generation gap in every community, but I think a lot of Muslim leaders will tell you--older Muslims will tell you they just don't understand the appeal that some of this terrorism, some of these acts have for these young people. But I think there needs to be a lot of work done internally in the community to figure out that question.

GORDON: Turn our attention to a story that we reported on earlier in the week, and that is we are seeing the ending of a campaign by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, a clean-up campaign by all accounts from his administration. And this was to, quote, "clean up the slums of Zimbabwe." What it has done is left upwards to 700,000 people without homes or livelihood. A UN envoy last week presented a report condemning this crackdown. Randall Robinson, you've been close to the continent of Africa and certainly know the goings on of Zimbabwe over the years. Talk to me about how you see this.

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, the apocalypse here is choking. Of course, we all should be disturbed about the summary removal of people at gunpoint. That is indefensible. But the World Bank has criticized Zimbabwe, and the World Bank has funded projects that require the eviction of 10 million people worldwide. The Brits, of course, for the longest time, evicted people to make way or to accommodate the rich, and did this on a massive scale in Britain. Over the last five years, 150,000 have been forced out in Delhi in slum clearance; 300,000 in Beijing to make way for the Olympic site; 100,000 in Jakarta; 250,000 in India to make way for dams. This sad practice has gone on globally for a long time. Now the West has made a big deal of focusing on Mugabe, and sometimes comparing the situation to Rwanda and mentioning him in the same breath with Pol Pot. Only three people have been accidentally killed in Zimbabwe. All of this is driven by the British and American dislike for Mugabe because he is evicting whites and redistributing the lands stolen from Zimbabweans after World War II when Zimbabwe was under British colonialism.

That is what is driving this sort of loathing of Mugabe in the West. And this is the same reason why African countries have been disinclined to criticize him. This is not to defend the practice of relocating people. Zimbabwe says it wants to build housing for a hundred fifty thousand people and this slum clearance not inconsistent with policies elsewhere. But the way it has been done, I think, is indefensible. But the focus on it, the unusual focus on the West I think is unfair, hypocritical and bogus.

Mr. DAVIDSON: You know...

GORDON: Joe and Laura, quickly for me, with about two minutes; a minute each for you. Thanks.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, on the point of whether or not these evictions have terminated, that seems to be still up in the air. There was a report that says humanitarian sources said that on Thursday, just yesterday, that the police continued to remove inhabitants from the Porta Farm area, and they were ones with 30,000 people there. So I don't think it's at all clear that these removals have come to an end, as a couple of the leaders in--Zimbabwe government leaders have announced.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, I think that there's a lot of questions that come out of this, and I'm very concerned about the official word--I just don't buy the argument, yes, we're clearing the slums out and we're going to replace them with new housing. You don't clear out slums and remove people, including women and children and elderly people, from their homes before you bring them new homes, especially in a country where you have an 80 percent unemployment rate already and where you have extreme poverty. Yeah. Mugabe's opposition is saying that the amount of money that they've said they're going to put aside, the government will set aside, it's not going to be able to solve this problem. You're talking about taking people's lives, taking people's livelihoods and homes...

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. WASHINGTON: ...and I just don't think there's any justification for it.

GORDON: All right. Well, we will continue to watch this story. Laura Washington in Chicago, Randall Robinson and Joe Davidson, we thank you both--or all three of you, rather, for joining us. Greatly appreciate it.

You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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