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Post 9/11: Policing Arab-Americans

The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 exposed critical issues within the United States’ national security. As a result, reassuring and reestablishing public safety was priority number one after the attack.

The US government increased this nation’s security protocols and law enforcement. Law enforcement was under tremendous pressure to prevent and anticipate future attacks. Overtly, these new security protocols can be seen at the airport with increased TSA security and processes. Law enforcement focused on intelligence and counterterrorism efforts with the establishment of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces.

Via PBS, this image reflects a 10 year difference after 9/11. These numbers have since increased exponentially.

Covertly, an entire community was and continues to be vilified for that tragic event. Since 9/11, Arab-Americans have been labeled as terrorists, suicide bombers, extremists, and more. The relationship between Arab-Americans and law enforcement significantly changed. The efforts of the law enforcement to prevent future attacks largely focused on surveilling and policing Arab-American communities.

The USA Patriot Act was passed as a result of 9/11 and allowed for homes to be searched, phones to be tapped, and people to be spied on. Arab-Americans feared the increased surveillance as they were concerned with their civil liberties of privacy being violated. Arab-Americans experienced increased interactions with law enforcement through increased public suspicion leading to a lot of false reports, “The general public calls in some ridiculous stuff – it’s really guilt by being Muslim”. Also, the relationship is strained within the two communities due to a lack of trust between them.

Another concern among Arab-Americans post 9/11 was their fear of immigration enforcement. Law enforcement would detain and deport Arab-Americans, “Many people went to register and got arrested. About 1,200 were arrested from this site area, and they were all Arab.” Similar to what is happening to immigrants today and with ICE, Arab-Americans would be detained in special holding locations without notification to their families.

Among Arab-Americans, sentiments toward federal law enforcement still remain on the more negative side due to their actions in carrying out national policy that discriminated against the Arab community. However, recently, relations between Arab-Americans and local law enforcement have become more positive. Local law enforcement has made the efforts through community outreach to engage with the Arab community and build relationships with them. Furthering the communication and dialogue between local law enforcement and Arab-Americans is a step in the right direction to right the wrongs done to Arabs for too long.


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