Impunity reigns from US to Israel

Joe Brusky

Racist killers and abusers enjoy impunity in the “West” – from Israel to the US.

While the US actively walls itself off from the world, President Donald Trump wants “to take the shackles off” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents, according to White House spokesperson Sean Spicer.

The New York Times reports that ICE agents are having “fun.”

Their jobs? Advancing the removal of Brown people from the US and prohibiting the entry of Muslims. They are succeeding.

Trump’s second attempt at a travel ban – currently blocked by a federal judge – would block people from six majority-Muslim countries from entering.

In February, close American family members of the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali appear to have faced a religious test upon landing in a Florida airport.

Mexican families in particular face fear, expulsion and uncertainty regarding what may come next. Terrified families from a number of countries are already fleeing to Canada and seeking asylum there.

Cruel family-splitting orders are being carried out.

In December, I had a heated discussion with a security officer at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. The security officer said to me: Do you want us to open up the border and let everyone into our country to come and blow us up?

A different agent seemed amused to tell a family of four how many hours they would likely have to wait while a family member holding a green card was cleared for entry. Scores of people waited, mostly black and brown. No accommodation was made for family members who had to mill about and wait for loved ones.

Immigration attorney Marty Rosenbluth told me that his colleagues in the Houston area label the airport “the worst.”

Rosenbluth added: “It is amongst the airports that harass, intimidate and try to block people who have a legal right to enter the country from doing so and also block access of these individuals to their attorneys.”

These government agents were primed for a crackdown already in December. Under Trump, they are moving with gusto.

Gloves stayed off

Meanwhile, American mosques burn and Jewish cemeteries are desecrated. Trump’s reference to “American carnage” in his inauguration speech appears not so much a commentary on what was, but on what was to be.

Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the US did not emerge from a vacuum.

The gloves that came off the American military in Iraq in 2003 regarding detainees – and led directly to torture at Abu Ghraib – in effect stayed off during Barack Obama’s presidency. Obama decided not to prosecute high-ranking Americans complicit in the torture of Iraqis and other foreign nationals.

One military directive regarding Iraqi detainees made it clear that “we want these individuals broken,” it has been reported.

The brutal designers of the post-9/11 American torture program have to date avoided prison time. These days, one can see James Mitchell, a principal architect of the torture program administered under President George W. Bush, offering his nauseating views on cable television.

Observers of Palestine and the wider region – particularly Iraq – are familiar with the phenomenon: proponents of failed American policies rarely go away.

They are invited back for their “expert” opinion time and time again. Some remain ensconced in government.

For those who do depart, there is a good chance their disastrous ideas and policies will take root again a generation later.

Trump relies on the counsel of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, both with close ties to white nationalists, anti-Semites and anti-Palestinian bigots. Their presence sends a message to violent bigots and is a recipe for top-down impunity.

Miscarriages of justice

Impunity is also rife in Israel, the main recipient of US military aid.

The Israeli soldier Elor Azarya received no more than a slap on the wrist for killing Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, an incapacitated Palestinian allegedly involved in an attack last year on an Israeli occupation soldier in Hebron.

Rather than be tried for murder, Azarya faced manslaughter charges and came away with an 18-month sentence.

But even that was too much for his supporters. They demand a pardon. Some even dressed their children as Azarya this Purim.

The light sentence for Azarya comes in the broader context of killings of Black Americans – many times caught on video – by police in the US with little or no accountability. These ongoing miscarriages of justice have sparked protests by the Black Lives Matter movement and allies, including groups backing Palestinian freedom and rights.

Perhaps not since the anti-colonial struggles of the 1950s and 1960s has such international solidarity been witnessed as diverse groups recognize the justice and similarities in one another’s struggles for equal rights within overbearing and oppressive states.

Trigger-happy

State violence occurred on the US-Mexico border for many years before Trump promised to promote his version with a wall.

In one major instance, a US border patrol officer in 2010 reportedly fired across the US-Mexico border to shoot dead Sergio Hernández Guereca, an unarmed 15-year-old. The US Supreme Court is currently hearing the case against agent Jesus Mesa Jr. in the midst of an explosion of xenophobia and anti-Mexican racism stirred by Trump.

The Supreme Court – including the Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch – is to determine whether the US constitution applies to a cross-border shooting.

As The Economist reports, the parents of Sergio Hernández Guereca would like to sue his killer “for depriving their son of his fundamental right to life, a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.”

But to do so, the US constitution must be regarded as applying. If it does not apply, The Economist suggests the US may be empowering “trigger-happy border-patrol agents to wield their authority – and their weapons – with impunity.”

And if it does apply, what distinguishes the killing of a civilian in a cross-border shooting from a civilian killed by a drone strike ordered by military personnel situated in a war room on an army base in the US?

The family would seem to have a powerful case as video evidence directly contradicts border patrol testimony that Sergio was throwing rocks across the border when Mesa shot him in the face.

But powerful evidence has amounted to precious little in recent cases.

During the court hearing on the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, the word of security personnel is contradicted by video evidence. And yet the New York officer who employed a deadly choke hold against Garner was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

How many other cases go misrepresented for lack of video evidence?

Stirring racist sentiment

During jury selection many years ago, my father was removed from a possible jury when he said – in response to a question – that he would not necessarily always take the word of a police officer over that of an average citizen.

Video evidence today conclusively proves this is a sensible position with officers repeatedly being shown to lie about violent interactions with the public.

Yet there is the distinct possibility that in the Trump era predominantly white juries will be swayed by racist rhetoric emanating from the president and such jury members will be more inclined to side with police forces, ICE and border patrol officers.

While this may have been the case during previous administrations, in a Trump presidency, authoritarianism and racism have clearly been legitimized from the very top.

Trump stirred racist sentiment from the day he announced his presidential bid in June 2015: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Notwithstanding Trump’s final sentence, the clear takeaway latched onto by bigots and supremacists is that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists.

Senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller, 10 years earlier at Duke University, organized anti-immigrant events, alongside the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. Today, not yet a decade out of Duke, Miller sits at the heart of Washington bringing that same anti-immigrant sentiment to his work.

And in places like Olathe, Kansas, and Kent, Washington, bigots quite possibly inflamed by racist rhetoric from our newest president are taking the law into their own hands and shooting people they identify as immigrants, sometimes with deadly fire.

In Olathe, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were asked if their “status was legal” before they were shot and Kuchibhotla fatally wounded. In Kent, a South Asian victim was told he should “go back to your own country” before he was shot.

Today, Miller, Bannon and Trump spread their toxic views on immigrants through the whole of the US. The animosity they spread has deadly consequences.

The Olathe murderer may well receive significant prison time for his crime. But the intellectual authors of the crime are seemingly immune, inveighing against the Brown and Black immigrants they abhor from the comfort and security of the White House.

Trump’s belated denunciation of the Olathe incident fools no one. The Olathe gunman may have lit the match, but it was Trump who poured the fuel.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.