The post-9/11 wars have intensified police militarization in the U.S.
In the United States, following the 9/11 attacks, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Arab descent became targets of government racial profiling practices. The U.S. government marked people of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Arab descent, and Muslims broadly, as presumed national security threats and targeted their communities for mass surveillance, eroding privacy and individual liberties and bolstering Islamophobic and xenophobic public narratives.
A “Special Registration” requirement announced in 2002 required that all males from a list of Arab and Muslim countries report to the government to register and be fingerprinted. The Obama administration suspended this program in May 2011; the program had not resulted in a single terrorism-related conviction despite tens of thousands of people forced to register. In 2017, Trump signed Executive Order 13769, which banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the United States for 90 days, indefinitely prohibited the entry of all Syrian refugees into the U.S. and blocked the entry of all other refugees for 120 days. President Joe Biden rescinded the policy on his Inauguration Day.
Such programs created a sense of hyper-visibility not only within government programs, but amongst neighbors, the media, and workplaces. Muslims and people of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Arab descent have often faced violence, intimidation, and vandalism by fellow citizens. They have also suffered hate crimes in the years since 9/11. Between 2000 and 2009, though the overall number of reported hate crime incidents decreased by over 18 percent, the percentage of hate crime incidents directed towards Muslims increased by over 500 percent. Anti-Muslim activity, including hate incidents against mosques and Islamic centers, media reports of anti-Muslim violence and anti-Muslim actions and statements by government officials “increased markedly since late 2015.” The number of assaults against Muslims in the U.S. peaked at 127 in 2016.
Though the militarization of U.S. policing is as old as the institution itself and rooted in anti-Black oppression, it has exploded since September 11, 2001 and its intensification must be counted among the costs of this country’s post-9/11 wars. Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities have borne the brunt of this militarization. Militarization underscores and intensifies the occupying, repressive role police play in hyperpoliced communities like Ferguson. The most brutal forms of protest policing have been leveled against labor organizers and Black and Indigenous liberation movements. Meanwhile, SWAT teams, which derive tactics and equipment from the military, are disproportionately used against Black and Latinx people in raids like the one that killed 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit, Michigan in 2010.
The exponential expansion of mass surveillance since 9/11 has also intensified the criminalization of marginalized and racialized groups, from Muslims and Arabs to Latinx immigrant communities to Black and Indigenous organizers, and has increasingly targeted protest movements such as Black Lives Matter and the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Congress should pass legislation to:
Devote more resources to helping targets of racial profiling get access to justice and to hold perpetrators accountable.
Page updated as of September 2023