When police released the identity of a suspect in the Chelsea explosion, hearts sank among many people of Middle Eastern descent. In the search for Ahmad Khan Rahami, whom investigators are connecting to a series of blasts in New York and New Jersey, including the one in Chelsea, heightened racial profiling of brown and Muslim people was expected. (Compare that with when police release the identities of white male suspects in crimes like these: the white male population at large is not similarly targeted, and there are no demands for them to collectively defend their ethnicity or beliefs.)
This same fear arises each time a suspect in a large-scale attack happens to carry a Middle Eastern name. This time around, Fusion political correspondent Terrell J. Starr started a thread on Twitter to alert Muslims on how to deal with racial profiling and Islamophobia while Rahami was at large.
From reminders to record interactions with the police to caution about their social media accounts being monitored, Starr's tweets are a helpful reminder for Muslims about how to deal with tense situations following these kinds of attacks. But the tweets are also a more consequential guide of how to navigate a politically charged climate in which Muslims are often called on to prove their commitment to the same values — of freedom, of innocence until proven guilty, of respect and equality — that they themselves are so often denied.
The New York police has a troubling track record with Muslim American citizens. A few years ago, the Associated Press released a series of damning reports that detailed the NYPD's broad clandestine spying program on Muslims New York. Beginning shortly after 9/11, officers infiltrated Muslim communities and spied on Muslims in colleges, mosques and at work.
The deliberate, systemic ethnic profiling of Muslims in America is one deeply ingrained in law enforcement (though it bears noting that not every single officer holds this personal bias), and the inflammatory anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump has exacerbated the rise of Islamophobia. In airports and on the streets, Muslims — or anyone with vaguely Middle Eastern traits — are viewed with suspicion and treated as such.
Starr's hashtag, #DearMuslims, has been used on Twitter to share more tips on how to handle racial profiling. And there are others using it to show solidarity with Muslims, too.
Cover image via Shutterstock.