Friday, June 04, 2010
US Attorney vows to protect American Arabs as indecision continues on critical anti-Arab hate crime
By Ray Hanania
U.S. Attorney Eric Holder told the opening meeting of the 30th Annual American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington D.C. Friday that “the prosecution of hate crimes is a top priority” of the Obama administration.
Yet for nearly one year, the Justice Department has not acted to intervene in one of the most heinous hate crimes against a Palestinian American tourist, Husien Shehada, shot and killed last year on South Beach by a Miami police officer with a history of problems.
Police had responded on June 14, 2009 to a 911 call from a caller who said he saw a suspect carrying an AK 47 under his shirt. But when Miami officer Adam Tavss confronted Shehada, no weapon was produced and he had his hands raised in the air and was being compliant. Tavss shot Shehada three times in chest, after, according to his attorney, Shehada had pleaded with the officer several times.
Tavss was suspended but was returned to duty days later after he was “cleared” by an internal probe. Hours after returning to duty, Tavss was involved in another shooting in which a suspected was reported to have hijacked a taxi cab at gunpoint. Tavss is suspected as the possible shooter but police have never identified which officer fired the bullet that killed the African American cab driver.
Tavss has had a history of brutality complaints that were dismissed by police but he was eventually fired when police discovered he was running a marijuana grow in a home.
The Shehada’s filed a civil suit against the Miami Police and Officer Tavss. The police have refused to release their records on the case, and the attorney for the Shehada family, John Contini, a criminal lawyer based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, said he was hopeful that Holder’s office would intervene.
That request was repeated by Contini on Friday after Holder delivered his remarks and then departed the ADC luncheon at the Marriott Wardman Hotel at the start of the weekend convention. But Contini, who was honored by ADC at the luncheon, handed over his materials to one of Holder’s deputies who was seated next to him.
Holder made no mention of the case but Contini offered details of what he called a “frightening event.”
Contini accused Miami officials of a cover-up and called on the U.S. Attorney to intervene.
“When this case was first brought to me I have to admit that I reacted with the same kind of racism and bigotry than many Americans react with when they hear an Arab or Muslim name like Husien,” Contini confessed. “I am ashamed of that but after looking at the case I am more ashamed of what was done to Husien Shehada, who was on vacation in South Beach with his brother, and what the City of Miami is doing today.”
With American Arabs angered by the recent Israeli assault on a flotilla of ships carrying food and aid to the 1.5 million besieged residents of the Gaza Strip, and with President Obama consumed by the international uproar and call for an investigation in to Israel’s assault which resulted in the killing of 9 activists including one America, Holder focused instead on the fight against profiling and hate crimes.
“The Justice Department’s commitment to civil rights has not been stronger,” Holder insisted. “Racial profiling is wrong. It can leave a lasting scar on communities and individuals. And it is quite simply, bad policing whatever city, whatever state.”
Holder revealed that he had been the victim of racial profiling when he was in college, calling it a humiliating experience.
Holder said that heart wrenching stories of misguided racial profiling continue. “The Justice Department will not stand idly by as the discrimination by the few unfairly tarnishes the outstanding work being done by so many. Nor will we stand idly by as isolated law enforcement departments engage in discriminatory practices of any kind. Our nation is better than that.”
Contini said he was moved by Holder’s speech but he said that like American Arabs, he is also waiting to see the administration put their muscle behind their promises.
“We haven’t seen anything yet but I am hopeful,” Contini said.
“The era of us versus them that some have experienced must end. Together we can make sure that era does end. … Regardless of our faith and regardless of our background, we are all Americans,” Holder said.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)