By Ahmed Tharwat
I live in a northern state in the US called Minnesota, which is also considered the “ice box” of the US for its long, brutal winters, where even the lakes and rivers freeze over. The state is a lot smaller than Egypt, with a population of just 5 million people. According to the last census, the population breakdown is 92% white, 3% black, and almost 3% Asian, with the rest so-called “other” ethnicities.
Arabs are in the mix somewhere; however, since the data on religion is not collected, it’s not known how many Muslims live here exactly.
In this peaceful, almost all-white state, at around 11:00 last Friday night, Majida and Adly Abumayaleh drove several miles from their house to pick up their teenage son from a party in a residential neighbourhood. Before they were able to get out of the car, a white woman approached the couple’s vehicle, demanded that they roll down their windows, and became violent when the Abumayalehs didn’t comply.
“We didn’t know what she actually wanted, “Adly said, according to the police report. Majida and Adly were not armed. Then, the woman pounded on their windows demanding that they get out of the car.
Adly continued that he didn’t want matters to escalate, so he did whatever she told him. The self-appointed watchwoman, named Nancy Kay Knoble, then began pounding on the car’s windows and doors, again commanding the Abumayalehs to get out of the vehicle.
“She pulled the rifle and said open the window or I’ll shoot you guys,” Adly explained. His wife Majida was terrified. “I was frozen; I couldn’t even call 911,” she said. Fearful and confused, the Abumayalehs complied with the woman’s demands and slowly got out of their car.
While Knoble held her gun to Adly’s back, three of them approached the house where the Abumayalehs’ son was spending time with friends. “I could feel the rifle in my back and I was afraid something may accidently happen that would trigger it,” explained the husband, who came all the way from Palestine more than 30 years ago.
He was still accused of being suspicious. “I had faced a lot of trouble back in Palestine, but nothing like this,” he reflected. Eventually, the police were called and the neighbourhood vigilante now faces charges of assault, terrorist threats and reckless disregard.
What made those two individual “suspicious” to Knoble remains the question before the court now, and whether this was a hate crime or not. “According to the chief police, to be a hate crime the suspect has to say or utter a racist or slur against the victims, which she didn’t according to police report and victim charges.”
When a crime is committed, it seems white folks get the benefit of the doubt; a second chance that minorities – blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, or other minority groups, like Muslims – don’t get. A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks and Native Americans in Minneapolis are nine times more likely to be arrested for low-level offences than whites. The study was released two weeks after 10-year-old Taye Montgomery was pepper-sprayed while peacefully protesting against police brutality in Minneapolis.
“At least I got maced and not shot,” Taye said. This trend holds true around the United States. An African-American man is 25 times more likely to be shot by the police than a white man. Just last week in McKinney, Texas, police were called to a pool party that went out of control when more teenage kids than expected showed up. The party was held at a community pool, included a DJ, and was promoted on social media. In the video that went viral, you can see a large white officer pinned a teenage black girl to the ground and held his service revolver in the faces of others. The police rounded up a bunch of youngsters, and according to witnesses, they were all minorities. “They left all the white kids alone,” a young black boy said.
Use your gun and figure things out later seems to have become a huge problem with how the police deal with young black men, from Ferguson, to Baltimore, New York to even here in Minnesota. On average, one black person is shot dead everyday around the country. Attacks on Muslims just for being Muslim are on the rise after the tragedy of 9/11. A young black Muslim, who had long been under surveillance, was allegedly shot by a Boston police officer and FBI agent in front of a pharmacy for drawing a knife and not dropping it when told to do so. The official report may not tell the whole story, as the Daily Kos describes the surveillance activity – “just for disagreeing with the government”.
According to the FBI, the suspect, known to the authorities for years, was a troubled young man with psychological problems who had been inspired to join ”Islamic State”. In another related incident back in Minnesota, a few weeks ago, the Attorney General in Minnesota held a press conference announcing the arrest of six young Somali men for the same crime.
What stands out to me is that when white folks in the US commit crimes, they get a second chance, a chance to give an explanation, and the event is often framed as an aberration or the act of a “mentally-ill” individual. But when non-whites misbehave, they are looters, criminals, or terrorists and the whole culture is condemned.
Now the good people of America are getting the message. Now the white folks who think they are taking the role of the police, who think a black child holding a candy bar in the street is dangerous, or a minor wearing a hoodie or having some fun in a pool in a suburb is a suspect. This may explain why a 48-year-old white woman thought the two Muslim-Americans who were waiting for their son in their own car at 11 pm were the usual suspects.
Ahmed Tharwat is host of the Arab-American TV show Belahdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes From America, on www.ahmediatv.co.m Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV