Volume 96, Issue 14
Friday, September 20, 2002

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Vigilance gone wrong

Shooting from the hick
Ryan Hickman
Sports Editor

If anyone was watching the round-the-clock news channels last Friday, you would have seen a little robot inching around two fully opened cars, like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit.

The cars that sat on "Alligator Alley," a highway that runs clear across the state of Florida, were being driven by three Muslim men. Law enforcement stopped the two cars and conducted an exhaustive search. They were tipped off by a Georgia women who overheard them alluding to terrorist activity at a restaurant. With the close proximity to the first anniversary of Sept. 11, the event caused a media frenzy south of the border.

After swabbing the surfaces of the car and bringing out the bomb-sniffing dogs, there were no explosives to be found. The three men were doctors who were making their way to Miami to begin a nine-week residency at Larkin Community Hospital. One of the men was a U.S. citizen by birth, another a naturalized U.S. citizen and the third man was a foreign national in the United States on a valid student visa.

Eunice Stone, the Georgia woman who took the liberty of determining that the darker skinned men were suspicious characters, was acting on the call of her president, Mr. Bush, to be a vigilant citizen in curtailing any further terrorist attacks. The U.S. Justice Department has even set up a program – Operation TIPS – to help U.S. citizens in their expanded vigilance.

As a result of Mrs. Stone's keen observations, three law-abiding individuals now have their careers in jeopardy because of the colour of their skin. Larkin Community Hospital has been bombarded with calls and e-mails, some that were even threatening. The three men that were stopped on Alligator Alley have been asked not to undergo their doctoral training at the hospital.

A year after Sept. 11, what have Americans learned? Although awareness of Muslim culture and the Islamic faith have risen since the tragic events, the ignorance and stereotyping aimed at people of darker skin colour has taken on a whole new dimension.

American citizens at large do not have the training, knowledge or right to take on the role of crime stoppers, especially when they are everyday people from rural Georgia who overhear a few dark-skinned men chatting about Sept. 11 and automatically conclude they are soldiers of al-Qaeda.

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union noted the dangers that arise with public vigilance. "We will quickly spiral down into anarchy if we begin to ask ordinary citizens to play the role that only trained authorities should play," he said.

Last Friday put an exclamation point on a number of problems, the main one being, many Americans seem to despise the "otherness" of people outside the pasty-faced mainstream. Racial profiling of African-Americans has been well publicized and even joked about, but Muslim-Americans do not find the new target on them amusing, especially when upstanding individuals find their lives and careers in jeopardy due to their physical appearance.

A couple of white dudes sitting around talking about Sept. 11 would not have ignited the O.J.-esque scene that occurred this past week. Americans are upset and rightly so, but Sept. 11 should have been a time to educate and investigate the grievances of others around the world, not a time for a national Arab manhunt because their president asked for vigilance.

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2002 THE GAZETTE