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This is America

“Black identity extremists”; the latest excuse in America’s war on Blacks.

Rakem+Balogun.
Rakem Balogun.

Rakem Balogun.

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Rakem Balogun.

Richard Molina, News Editor

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Since the death of Trayvon Martin and rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, individuals throughout the Country have seen video after video of police violence against African Americans. But in the last month, many have seen the other side to this ugly truth—the civilian side. In the past month alone, numerous online videos have gone viral documenting Black people being perceived and treated as threats.

The first of these videos to go viral involved two black men waiting for a friend inside of a Starbucks in Philadelphia on April 12. The police were called on Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who had not yet ordered anything as they awaited their friend’s arrival.

Days later, another video surfaced of an incident at a Starbucks, this time in Torrance, California. Brandon Ward asked to use the bathroom before making a purchase and was told it was reserved for customers. Shortly after, Ward filmed a white man walking out of the bathroom and asked if he had made a purchase, to which the man answered “no”.

Several more stories of police being called on black people minding their own business surfaced in the following weeks. Lolade Siyonbola “looked suspicious” for napping in the common room of a Yale University dorm. Michael Hayes, a black real estate investor, was mistaken for a burglar while inspecting an empty home in Memphis, Tennessee. A group of black women on a Pennsylvania golf course were “playing too slow” and were removed. A group of black professionals were also mistaken to be burglars when checking out the AirBnB they had rented.

It seems both civilians and government officials will find any reason to castigate black people, but as actor Will Smith put it, “racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” The distinction is important to make and critical in understanding the historical trajectories of racial discrimination in the United States.

Perhaps the most alarming of these stories to surface is that of Rakem Balogun. Armed agents in tactical gear stormed into Balogun’s home on December 12 to the shock of himself and his 15-year-old son. Balogun later found out he was under FBI investigation for “domestic terrorism”, part of an initiative to root out what the US government has marked as “black identity extremists”.

Balogun was targeted by this initiative after participating in protests against police brutality. He also took to Facebook and “vented”, condemning both the police and government for racial profiling after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Disgusted with the media’s justification of the killings, Balogun said, “I just mimicked their reactions to our killings.”

Balogun’s story doesn’t come as much of a surprise when recalling the legacy of COINTELPRO, the FBI program started in the 50’s, which was responsible for surveilling and dismantling civil rights organizations of the time.

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