Ted Wafer’s trial, and why race matters in jury selection



JUL 24, 2014, 1:00 PM

Ted Wafer’s trial, and why race matters in jury selection

Jury selection concluded yesterday for the upcoming trial of Ted Wafer, who fatally shot unarmed teenager Renisha McBride last year  in Dearborn Heights.

We should not prognosticate on how the trial will end, but we do know that ethnic make-ups of juries in general can and does influence verdicts in our courtrooms. Regarding jury make-up, let’s compare this particular case to another high profile case pertaining to a non-black shooter with a black fatality.

The case of Wafer, who is white and fatally shot McBride, who was black and wearing a hoodie, can, on its face, compared to the case of George Zimmerman, who also killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, who was also wearing a hoodie.

The jury of the Zimmerman trial comprised zero black jurors. In fact juror B37 stated after the trial that Zimmerman, who followed Martin before confronting and killing him, had the right to use lethal force because he had a reasonable reason to fear Martin.

Jurors, of course, do not make process information on strictly rational basis. Jurors are humans who bring their biases into jury boxes.

When there’s a general fear of black youth who dress a particular way, it stands to reason that non-black jurors would identity more with the self-defense argument, even when the shooter doesn’t flee but actually confronts their eventual target. There is also a common tendency of defense attorneys to disqualify potential black jurors when the perpetrators are white, out of concern that they will identify more with the prosecution’s arguments.

The jury for the Wafer trial, unlike Zimmerman’s, will have four black jurors, two males and two females. This is not to say that this jury will not be hung based upon disagreements, nor does it mean that all of the four black jurors are free from internalized oppression.

What it does mean, however, is that Wafer will be tried by a jury of his peers as well as the peers of the deceased, reflecting the diversity of the community, unlike Zimmerman’s jury, which had no one who looked like or apparently could identify with Martin.

We’ll see how the Wafer trial unfolds. One thing I can say for sure though: I feel better that a just verdict will be given in this case, given the diversity of the jury, more than I would if the jury was exclusively white.

Learning lessons from the anniversary of Bosnian genocide


JUL 16, 2014, 4:40 PM

Learning lessons from the anniversary of Bosnian genocide

Bosnian Americans, in recent days, have commemorated the 19th anniversary of the Bosnian genocide in which thousands were slaughtered and tens of thousands were expelled from their land by Serbian forces. Some of those Bosnian refugees were granted asylum in America and now reside in Metro Detroit.

I have a special connection to these naturalized Americans from Bosnia and their children, who were born here because I served in the U.S. military and was deployed in the region in 1995, shortly after the Srebrenica massacre. Almost a decade later, I served temporarily as the imam of the Bosnian American Islamic Center in Hamtramck in which I heard families recap stories of rape and killing that took place.

What I’ve learned from experiencing and hearing the stories of those subjected to wanton violence based upon ethnic and religious affiliations is that entities that stir up such divisions must be immediately confronted with alternative and unifying messages before bloodshed and refugee crisis come as a result of inaction.

Case in point is the recent ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic (CAR) when 800,000 Muslims were driven out by Christian militias in reaction to a coup d’etat led by rebel groups that were predominately, but not exclusively, compromising of Muslims.

The crisis, which brewed for awhile, perhaps could have been averted if dealt with proactively. Since the crisis, human rights groups have accused France and Chad of harboring persons who have committed killings and other human rights abuses relating to ethnic cleansing and retaliation associated to it.

America cannot be the police force of the world via exertions of military force, nor should we ever see ourselves as having this role. We do, however, have the moral obligation to make sure that our government and our allies do not support repressive regimes that sow seeds of division to remain in power.

Unfortunately, we do not have such influence over nations such as Russia that have also supported repressive regimes that have exploited ethnic differences as a means of shoring up power.

There will always be political and religious leaders that foment ethnic and sectarian strife. As we look at ethnic and religiously-based violence that stretches across the globe, from Nigeria to Myanmar, it’s clear that the citizens of the world have not learned the lessons from Bosnia and other genocides which came before.

Thankfully, such is not the case in today in America.

As America may be forced to intervene militarily in some cases as in Bosnia, we have the duty to be opposed to tyranny wherever we see it and promote peaceful solutions to counter those who promote division that may result in mass violence. Perhaps we need to have a Department of Peace as part of our government, outside of the State Department, for such work. It may be cheaper for us in the long term if we had such and probably would avert future situations like Bosnia from taking place.

NSA spying on prominent American Muslims should trouble us all


JUL 10, 2014, 10:30 AM

NSA spying on prominent American Muslims should trouble us all

Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain just released a story based on the Snowden leaks that the National Security Agency (NSA), in conjunction with the FBI, has been spying on thousands of law-abiding Americans, including a former Senior Policy Advisor for Homeland Security under the Bush administration, a criminal defense attorney and a prominent civil rights leader.

This piece, differing from other stories about pervasive NSA surveillance, shows for the first time five American faces who were targeted, all five being American Muslims. One of them, Nihad Awad, is the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which I am of course affiliated with.

I’d like to point out three issues regarding these new revelations that should disturb all Americans.

First, all five men appear to have been targeted for their political positions or activism in the Muslim community, not due to credible national security concerns, which is supposed to be the NSA’s scope.

Keep in mind that after years of intrusive surveillance, the government did not bring even a single criminal charge against any of those five. Hence, the Greenwald – Hussain story described them as being Americans who continue to maintain “highly public, outwardly exemplary lives.” If there were any doubts before, this can happened to any American, since it happened to them.

Second, the leaked documents also show that racism is clearly in play in how some senior intelligence analysts view the Muslim community. This is clear given NSA officials used an example to instruct agents on how to properly record Muslims under surveillance in their files under the title of “Mohammed Raghead.”

In response, a White House spokesperson said that the usage of the slur is “unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values.”

Condemning the use of slurs and seeking to eliminate their usage in official government programs is fine and dandy. My major concern pertains to the pervasive spying of the American Muslim community and its leadership, which is informed upon in part due to bias, not just using slurs in official government databases.

Last, such surveillance has a basic chilling effect on citizens’ religious practice and political engagement.

As in the era of former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover during the 1960s and early 1970s, activists’ intimate communications are being captured by government.

History shows that our intelligence services have used embarrassing moments in the leaders’ personal lives as a form of blackmail.

This tactic was used against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pertaining to his extra-marital relations. More recently, an informant in California named Craig Monteilh used pillow talk with Muslim women on behalf of the FBI.

People may fear not getting involved in religious organizations or in forms of political dissent out of fear that a personal indiscretion could be used against them by their own government. This did not happen in the case of the five Muslims in the highlight in the story, but easily could have given different circumstances.

The KGB-style surveillance informed by the political and religious persuasions of American citizens must end. I hope that these recent revelations with spark more discussions by the public and in Congressional hearings, which leads to true NSA and FBI surveillance reform.

Perhaps this all may be sorted out in federal court, given that these five men have what appears to be strong legal standing to bring forth a lawsuit.