Think twice before categorizing criminals who use guns as domestic terrorists

July 5, 2015
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In response to 1st District Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin’s proposal to charge perpetrators of gun violence as domestic terrorists, I caution the readers to understand the definition of domestic terrorism.

The FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism requires the following three characteristics:

  • involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
  • occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

Based on the second characteristic, I doubt that the perpetrators of gun violence are intentionally shooting at our neighbors who are mowing their lawns because the shooters and their co-conspirators have a grievance against U.S. tax law.

I believe Boykin to be genuinely concerned about the gun violence plaguing Chicago. (The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that a few Chicago neighborhoods have escaped the homicide plague, but not the West Side; from Jan. 1, 2012, through May 31, 2015, 117 people were killed in Austin.)

I also believe that Boykin knows his proposal cannot be legally applied unless there are changes made to both federal law and FBI policy.

I can only speculate that the intent of his proposal is to reignite our attention to the ongoing gun violence; however, I fear that his proposal will also open the door for enhanced enforcement that may negatively impact poor communities of color like Austin.

Statistics have proven that enhanced enforcement does not work. Remember the federal government’s “War on Drugs?”

Because of federal laws and policies emphasizing enforcement and incarceration targeted poor black communities to fight the illegal drug trade, the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ inmate population grew from 24,252 in 1980 to the present inmate population of 208,388.

Nearly 38 percent of the present federal inmate population is black, although nationally, black people make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Boykin asked those who disagree with his proposal where are their plans?

As a response, I ask Boykin to commit to connecting with organizations and stakeholders like the Austin Community Action Council (Austin CAC). The Austin CAC developed a holistic education plan that placed an emphasis on early childhood development, restorative justice strategies and parental development modeled on the successful Spencer Technology “parent university” initiative.

Our plan was ignored by the CPS.

The Austin CAC continues to meet with the belief that neighborhood schools can be incubators of positive community change and programs.

If we are not advocating for basic, equitable resources for young black men yet advocating for them to be branded as domestic terrorists, Boykin may get his wish and also subject our young men to the same drone attacks currently being executed against ISIS and Al-Qaida.

Dwayne Truss is a longtime Austin resident.

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