Black Muslims Remain Unnamed In Joe Biden's Pledge To End A Trump-Era Surveillance Program

By ignoring how anti-Black Islamophobia shaped CVE frameworks, Biden has left Black Muslims vulnerable once again.

📝 Monthly Round-Up

How to Pay Reparations, Tochi Onyebuchi — This is a short story and I don’t want to spoil much. So, I’ll just use Slate’s own description: “In this new short story, a city tries to use an algorithm to pay reparations.”

Racism Cannot Be Reduced to Mere Computation, Charlton McIlwain — This article — which, I mean, the headline sums up a lot — is in response to Tochi Onyebuchi aforementioned short story. So, make sure to read the story first before moving on here.

The Problem With Police-Shooting Videos, Allissa V. Richardson — Conversations around police shooting videos come up time and time again. This line, perhaps, sums up why I hate them: “With every new video though—and every officer’s acquittal—I worry about the traumatized children who have to live with their parents entombed online.”

Throughout the summer, the Trump administration has prepared to launch its Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program. Described as an “evolution” of the Obama-era Countering Violent Extremism, TVTP will utilize the same debunked framework and distribute $10 million in grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. While DHS cites the growing threat of “domestic actors” like white supremacists, make no mistake: federal surveillance will never address white supremacy. Rather, CVE’s history suggests that TVTP will be nothing more than another Muslim surveillance program.

Many advocates expect that, like its predecessor, TVTP will target low-income, Black Muslim communities who were effectively utilized as test subjects in pilot cities like Boston and Minneapolis to develop CVE. But over the weekend, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to end TVTP if elected. However, Biden’s words ring hollow for many Black Muslims, who noticed not only their exclusion within his promise, but the hypocrisy of the man who served as Vice President during CVE’s formation condemning its heir now.

Biden’s vow to end TVTP is included within his platform for Arab American communities. While it may seem like no big deal, the decision to do so falls back on the notion that “Muslim = Arab”. By ignoring how anti-Black Islamophobia shaped CVE frameworks, and rendering Blackness invisible within discussions of Muslim surveillance, Biden has left Black Muslims vulnerable once again.

“Arab Americans are key stakeholders in this fight and they should be heard,” Ramla Bile, an anti-surveillance organizer in Minneapolis, told NAZAR. “That said, the Biden-Harris campaign is responsible for ensuring that Black Muslims are centered in the surveillance conversation, particularly in this critical moment for Black lives that grew from an uprising in Minneapolis, a CVE pilot city.”

In Minneapolis, CVE operated under the name “Building Community Resilience”, and often targeted Somali youth. CVE programming was so insidious that even Minneapolis Public Schools took funding and, in 2016, the so-called “ISIS trials” involving nine Somali men showed the program’s terrifying potential. Some say that by failing to include CVE’s primary targets within his analysis of its evolving framework, Biden’s promise to end TVTP is put into question.

“[Biden] does not mention the truth…that Black Muslims are the most impacted by CVE and TVTP. Not naming this, how can we trust he will dismantle it?” Patrice Lawrence, co-director of the UndocuBlack Network, said. “There are also no Black Muslim advisers to Biden, even though he was encouraged to do so. He also held community consultations and was told the impact of CVE. To release a plan without mention of African immigrant communities especially is blatant and deliberate erasure.”

It is not only Biden’s failure to explicitly name and acknowledge Black Muslims that has made many uncomfortable. While Biden says he’ll end TVTP, that has more to do with Trump’s name being attached then him taking a stance against CVE framework or surveillance more broadly. After all, as Lawrence pointed out, “Obama laid the tracks for what Trump has built on in several cases of policy” — with Biden by his side — and, besides, his own plan alludes to the potential of a Biden-era surveillance program.

Biden’s platform says he will create a dialogue with community leaders on issues of “surveillance, policing, and counterterrorism”. And in the past, Kamala Harris expressed her support of CVE programming when running her presidential campaign. As I previously reported in Vice’s Motherboard, her domestic terrorism planed promised $2 billion over the course of ten years. It’s hard to see how a Biden-Harris administration wouldn’t come up with its own surveillance program. Think TVTP but in a nicer pantsuit.

To Bile, the commitment to dialogue reads as just more of the status quo, as some Muslim leaders and organizations helped design, shape, and implement CVE. “Equitable representation itself is not a win, it’s simply a seat at the table with the surveillance-state, which may or may not mitigate/eliminate harm,” Bile said. “Even worse, Harris’ prosecutorial record and Biden’s CVE history actually positions organizers to brace themselves for a more sophisticated and draconian program that outwardly presents itself with a liberal flare.”

For Bile, any truly impactful decisions around surveillance must include a radical shift in ideology, like “[doing] away with language like ‘monitoring,’ which soften and sanitize activities that we know are harmful and run counter to human rights. And we need a government that is not only anti-surveillance, but one that protects residents from private sector entities that attempt to profit from surveillance.”

But ultimately, there is no United States without surveillance — so let’s just do away with that. Biden vowing to end TVTP may be something but surveillance will continue under his — or any other — administration. As Lawrence said, “Domestic surveillance of Muslims, Black, and brown people is essential to the core of America.” It is better to be aware of this than to pretend that a presidential candidate from any party could ever offer Black Muslims a future free of the surveillance state.

📌 Organizing

UndocuBlack Network — I first became aware of UndocuBlack Network when I met Patrice Lawrence at a Muslim ARC training. Describing itself as “a network fighting to create space for currently and formerly undocumented Black immigrants”, I encourage y’all to get familiar with their work.

Muslim ARC — I am also now realizing I never shouted out Muslim ARC before which….shame on me. But saving Muslim ARC for this issue works out as Executive Director Margari Hill has written some informative pieces [one, two] about CVE.

Regulating Biometrics: Global Approaches And Open Questions — Lastly, I want to boost this report from the AI Now Institute, which includes eight case studies from experts across the world on attempts to regular biometrics.