Opinion: 15 Years After 9/11, It's Past Time to Rethink America's New Normal 

The best way to honor the memory of 9/11 is to advocate for a restoration of democracy, civil liberties and human rights for a new generation.

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Somehow, since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve gotten used to a new normal.

We’ve become habituated to constant government surveillance of ordinary people, to endless war with no deadlines or exits, to local law enforcement agencies’ routine access to surplus weapons of war, and to renewed demonization of entire groups because of their country of origin, skin color or religious beliefs.

Since 9/11, the government increasingly has used technological advances to invade our privacy and conduct blanket spying on ordinary Americans. The government and law enforcement now has at their disposal a host of advanced technologies — warrantless wiretaps, drones, StingRays that track cell phones and automated license plate readers, to name a few — that allow them to gather and collect personal information about ordinary individuals without their knowledge. Such surveillance ultimately deprives us of the privacy that is essential to liberty, stifles free speech, inhibits legitimate behaviors and choices, and results in biased targeting of innocent people.

It is time to have an open discussion about the various technologies and threats to our privacy, their impact on our communities and ways that everyone can help fight back against government surveillance.

In the decade and a half since 9/11, our country has prosecuted a global war on terror with no deadlines and no exits, resulting in a perpetual state of war since 2001. These wars have resulted in death and injury for thousands of servicemen and women, including the death of more than 200 Virginians, and caused widespread death and displacement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan.

It is time to re-examine our country’s foreign policies of the last 15 years and explore avenues to rekindle the use of diplomacy, soft power and peaceful foreign policy alternatives to endless war.

Taking advantage of post-9/11 federal grants, local and state police have outfitted their departments with surplus military equipment, including mine-resistant vehicles and other gear and firepower that are far beyond what’s necessary to protect communities. Sending SWAT-style units to perform normal police work can escalate otherwise nonthreatening situations — intimidating residentss and driving a wedge between them and the police who serve them. The over-militarization of police encourages the idea that police are at war with the very communities they are charged with keeping safe. Virginia is no exception to this trend. Police in 100 localities in the Commonwealth have taken advantage of military surplus programs to acquire the tools of war to police their communities with little to no oversight or public discussion.

It is time to re-evaluate the cause and rise of a militarized police force, as well as its impact on community policing and effect on our localities, particularly within communities of color.

Since 9/11, many people in the United States have assumed that most terrorists who threaten the country are Arab Muslims. Under this assumption, we have demonized Muslims all over the world, including many born and raised as American citizens.

Some public leaders continue to promote a dangerous politics of fear mongering and Islamophobia, encouraging profiling and discrimination. Meanwhile, the threat posed by white hate groups is growing.

It is time to address the racial component of the war on terror and the psychology of hate that has been allowed to fester in some segments of America.

Acts of terrorism continue to jar and traumatize the United States and other nations with seemingly senseless acts that kill innocent people for incomprehensible reasons. Nonetheless, we must not allow fear to outweigh our dedication to protecting the basic constitutional rights that have nurtured and guided us as a nation for nearly two and a half centuries.

Privacy. Due process. Equal protection under the law. Free speech, religious freedom and the right to assembly. Liberty. Equality. Inclusion.

We must place the highest value on these rights and core values that form the foundation of what makes America great. We must resist the rationalization that massive government overreach is justified on the grounds that: If we aren’t doing anything wrong, we have no reason to object.

This is especially true when the government tells us that giving up our rights is for our own good. That’s downright un-American, and that’s what we should fear most.

The best way to honor the memory of 9/11 is to advocate for a restoration of democracy, civil liberties and human rights for a new generation. S

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and Adria Scharf is the executive director of the Richmond Peace Education Center.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.



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