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Demagoguery redux – the NAACP and racial profiling

By Vijay Dandapani
web posted December 13, 2004

Vanita Gupta is an unlikely household name, at least not yet anyway. However, the petite but voluble Ms. Gupta, an attorney with the legal defense fund of the NAACP, may not be able walk incognito for long. Halle Berry is slated to play the Yale law graduate as an Indian Erin Brockovich in a movie by producers Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins about the nationally infamous racist drug bust in Tulia, Texas in 1999.

Vanita Gupta

Two Fridays ago a short video of her role in the unraveling of the state's case was shown in a banquet room of a luxury hotel in New York. The audience, largely made up of prominent professionals and businesspersons from the Indian community in New York as well as Indian government diplomats, gave the young lass a standing ovation. With considerable aplomb and verve, the highly articulate Ms. Gupta rose to accept the applause and proceeded to further dazzle the audience with her account of the struggle to overturn the convictions stemming from the actions of a racist narcotic agent in Texas.

That a significant chunk of the credit for foiling the heinously racist plot of the depraved agent ought to go to unsung heroes that include Texas attorney, Jeff Blackburn who got the first dismissal for one of the "Tulia 46" and a local trio comprising Gary Gardner, Charles Kiker and Alan Bean who formed an advocacy group called Friends of Justice, is another story.

As I watched the film and listened to Ms. Gupta an initial welling up of pride at seeing a fellow Indian feted quickly turned to less amiable emotions. While recapping the torrid events that took 10 per cent of the black population of Tulia, Texas to prison on false charges, she touched upon the need to combat racial profiling and went on to speak about its effects on Muslims who had been rounded up in the aftermath of 9/11. It was at that point, I regretted having risen to my feet earlier. In strident tones, Ms. Gupta spoke of the damage wrought upon an entire community due to the administration decision to target Muslims within the US for questioning on ties to terrorism. Repeating charges of widespread discrimination against Muslims alleged by advocacy groups on the left as well as a number of Muslim organizations, she asserted that the government's searches were unfounded while conflating racial profiling with the government's attempt at bringing in terrorists who may have already been in the country.

That the NAACP would try to link the obnoxious practice of racial profiling by police against blacks with the need for law enforcement to look out for Islamist terrorists is in itself unsurprising. The NAACP often sees red at the mere mention of white folk particularly when they are situated in Texas. And when it comes to beating the Bush administration just about any stick will do. It is true that of the nearly 1000 Muslims arrested after 9/11 most had little to do with terrorism. But that ignores at least a couple of important truths – that the government was under tremendous pressure to act quickly lest other terrorist acts occur and, importantly, they constituted a tiny fraction of the 7 million Muslims in the US. Arguably, with the luxury of time, far fewer would have been victims of a "dragnet".

Ms. Gupta and her employer, the NAACP, are doing a signal disservice to the country's security in providing cover for the specious claims of organizations such as CAIR (the Council for American Islamic Relations) about a witch hunt against Muslims. While the unfortunate truth is that virtually all recent terrorism has been wrought by Muslims, it surely does not make all Muslims terrorists. That fact, however, makes it incumbent on the government to narrow its focus to Muslims. In providing a foundation to ill-founded claims of discrimination, the NAACP does little to advance advocacy for genuine cases such as in Tulia, Texas. Data mining, instead of human prejudice that largely constitutes black racial profiling, can be an excellent tool to filter out and nab potential terrorists. But that would require reasoned debate – something organizations like the NAACP and CAIR are disinclined to indulge in when it comes to administration policy initiatives.

Far from singling Muslims out, President Bush has repeatedly gone out of the way to consider their sensibilities and has called Islam "a religion of peace". He has often invited leaders, with some questionable ones among them, to the White House. As recently as last month the President, hosted an "Iftar" celebratory dinner at the White House. However, his detractors operate under the principle that no good deed should go unpunished. Ms.Gupta wholly embraces that sentiment.

This is Vijay Dandapani's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2004 Vijay Dandapani.


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