What Americans Should Really Be Terrified Of

We've all been affected by the tragedy in Boston. Anytime an innocent person gets killed in an act of terror, we feel some of the pain of the victims' families, and we feel less safe, for our way of life has been threatened.

In another incident, on a warm spring afternoon in Chicago in 2012, 6-year-old Aliyah Shell sat with her mother on the front porch of their Little Village home on the city's southwest side. A pickup truck drove by, shots were fired, and Aliyah lay in the arms of a mother crazed with confusion and grief. The little girl died later that afternoon at the hospital.

In a third incident, in March of 2011, about 40 individuals gathered together at a community center to try to resolve a dispute over a local mine. The group included the most respected senior members of the community. At about 10:45 AM the room was bombed, and most people inside were killed. Their bodies were blown up, torn into unrecognizable pieces. Family members could do nothing. Even collecting the remains for burial was dangerous, for bombings were often followed by attacks targeting the rescuers. This has been the way of life in much of Pakistan.

All these attacks ended human lives and caused unimaginable suffering for the families of the victims. All deserve our attention. We don't need the media to decide for us which is most important, or which impacts us most personally. But news sources have tried to do that with the Boston bombing, to stir the passion of fear in our minds, to bolster the cause of homeland security. The Wall Street Journal proclaimed that the Boston attack is "a reminder of the continuing need for heightened defenses against terror threats."

But what is the nature of "terrorism" in each case?

Terror in Boston

The accused bombers in Boston, one a U.S. citizen and the other a long-time resident, appear to have been attention-seeking, "self-radicalized"anti-war zealots, whose actions may have been the result of social pathology rather than of terrorism. Yet they're viewed as foreign extremists.Glenn Greenwald observed that the American definition of terrorism is "violence by Muslims against Americans and their allies." The Guardian, while recognizing the heinous nature of the crime, measured the events against other dangerous times and places and reminded us "how little Americans have to worry about terrorism."

Terror in the Sky

In Pakistan, civilians near target areas hear the droning in the sky all day long. Said one resident: "I can't sleep...when the drones are there...I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain." A humanitarian worker added, "I was in New York on 9/11...This is what it is like."

When bombings kill townspeople, their family and friends are often afraid to run to their aid, because standard procedure is to bomb the first responders. Afterwards the funerals are sometimes bombed.

A Pew survey reported that 75% of Pakistanis consider us their enemy. A former advisor to General Petraeus stated, "Every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement.." Indeed, militant groups have rapidly been forming, such as Lashkar, which has been attacking U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan. The sentiment goes beyond Pakistan. A spokesperson for Yemen, also under attack, told a U.S. Senate committee, "What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: There is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America."

Terror in the Streets

It's dangerous to be a child in America. The number of preschoolers killed by guns in 2008 and in 2009 was nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty over the same period.

Society's answer to violence has been more jail time for offenders, usually young men with limited job skills and employment opportunities. It's been getting worse since the recession. In the United States, K-12 education has been cut by $20 billion over five years, while over the same period large corporations have underpaid their state taxes by about $14 billion per year.

The sequester has cut further into education and anti-poverty programs. Almost half of young black children live in poverty, and unemployment among blacks is almost twice the rate of whites. Economic mobility in the U.S. lags behind most other developed countries. A Pew studydetermined that low-income families and those of color had the least access to resources to overcome job loss.

Most American cities haven't experienced terrorism in the accepted sense, but moments of terror are frequent in communities wracked by poverty, where prospects for secure employment are almost nonexistent. Taxes that might fund job programs are not being paid. Education keeps getting cut. We're spending 15 times more on immigration enforcement than we did in the Cold War year of 1986. The largely imagined threat of foreign attacks is diverting billions of dollars into a Homeland Security fund that safeguards the assets of the rich, while the core problems of poverty and economic immobility are ignored.

Leaving Us Terrified

Foreign bombings would end if we acknowledged the value of life in other countries. Violence in American cities would be reduced if we addressed the root causes and provided the necessary funding. Yet we're directing most of our resources toward tragedies that might happen instead of tragedies that occur every day. Certainly, if we were to stop bombing other countries and address our own poverty at its source, we would lessen the chance of another Boston-like attack that will leave us feeling terrified all over again.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up