To survive Tuesday's attacks, Americans must stand united

Whose side are we on?

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

I am new to Alaska and to the Kenai Peninsula, and I am very glad to be here. Thursday evening, a week almost to the minute from when I arrived here, I received a peculiar welcome from the community.

Apparently, in the wake of terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, D. C., and Pennsylvania, someone on this side of the country made an effort to do their civic duty and report something suspicious at the apartments where I live.

At 10:13 p.m. Thursday, a Kenai police officer knocked at my door to inform me that that particular suspicious something was me.

The caller reported a dark male driving a car with New York plates living in my apartment. Being that I just moved here from Syracuse, N. Y., home of the Orangemen, winners of last year's Great Alaska Shootout, and that I am a black man, I undoubtedly fit the description.

The implication, the officer explained to me, was that I was possibly responsible for Tuesday's heinous attacks and had come to the peninsula to hide out.

The officer was nice enough and admitted to being embarrassed, so I let him look around. There was nothing to see, just me in my blackness, sitting on my couch on a Thursday night reading No. 6 in the "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. He even told me he had just finished the book and asked me how far I was into it. He called the station and left.

At first I thought it was funny. Then I got the entire gist of what had just happened -- and what's been happening every day since Tuesday.

A friend of mine from college composed an e-mail demanding a boycott of Arab-owned businesses. People everywhere are pointing fingers at Americans of Arabian heritage -- or anybody that looks like them. It's ludicrous to think that everybody living in this country that came from the Middle East should be responsible for contributing to terrorism. But this is his belief, and the basis of Thursday's report of my whereabouts.

I suppose it was a stretch, but I was identified, nonetheless. I was angry because I had been marked as a threat to one of my neighbors, which, in my mind, makes one of my neighbors a potential threat to me. Somebody who lives in my apartment building!

So, do I now have to constantly look over my shoulders? I refuse to.

Going beyond myself, I took a look at the big picture.

First, what subtle prejudices are we, as Americans, harboring that would give us cause to vilify our neighbors, fellow Americans, in time of crisis? Should I expect all Middle-Easterners to do suicide-bombing runs?

Furthermore, should I fear that, because I'm a black man, every white policeman could, in the spirit of Mark Furhman, beat me first and ask questions later? Should I be suspected of shoplifting or stealing whenever I go into a retail store?

Moreover, in the wake of Tuesday's events, is attacking every assumed semblance of the enemy -- Muslims, Sudanese, Burmese, Indians, Pakistanis, Arabians -- and passing judgment base upon blind fear really American.

This country has a proud history of recovering from adversity and prevailing. No time can be more adverse than now, as we try to heal from our wounds and regroup. And the enemy still walks among us.

But if we begin to turn in upon ourselves, attacking innocents without providing the due process that protects us all from tyranny and injustice, the freedoms we all enjoy will begin to erode and our enemy will truly win.

Giving in to fear and chaos, suspecting everyone and trusting no one, these are the results of terror and why terrorists do what they do. A divided body cannot stand. If we are to overcome this darkest hour, we must begin by pulling together and putting aside cultural differences. Then we, as a combined body, lend cooperation to our national leaders. For now, the best thing for American citizens to do, beyond contributing to relief, is to wait for the call to do more.

Marcus K. Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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