The record shows that while terrorists destroyed the businesses, livelihoods and lives of innocent Americans during the 1950s through the 1980s, the Federal government assuaged them with civil rights legislation and other measures to reduce discrimination in housing, employment, education and other amenities enjoyed by non-minority Americans. Instead of making concessions to the black American extremists, the government could have furthered racial peace by following a policy akin to Dershowitz’ recent proposal: Upon the next attack, bulldoze all the buildings of a [small] African American neighborhood known to have assisted a Black Panther or other militant group responsible for murdering innocents in the name of black power. As Dershowitz notes, the proposal would further two “noble causes,” ending terrorism and furthering peace in a diverse country. “[A] clear message will be sent every time terrorists blow themselves up and kill civilians, they are also blowing up one of their own villages.” “Over time, the … residents of these [neighborhoods] will place the blame where it should be placed: directly on the … terrorists who engaged in terrorism…”
In 1966, during race riots in Watts (Los Angeles) led by extremist members of the civil rights movement, people looted and firebombed the property of hundreds of residents, leading to the deaths of several innocent civilians. Yet Congress signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act at this time. Even the Supreme Court capitulated, invalidating poll taxes in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections in 1966.
The violence escalated as sympathizers the likes of Fred Hampton, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton instigated riots and murdered innocents. Blacks in Chicago firebombed and looted in the summer of 1966. In 1967, extremists led uprisings in at least eight urban areas throughout the country. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the violent El RUKN, an African American “gang with a social conscience,” terrorized, murdered, extorted and dealt hard drugs. The Department of Justice suspected the El RUKNs were responsible for about 500 murders. Using informants and cooperators to crack their operations and obtain convictions proved nearly impossible.
Instead of showing African-Americans that such tactics only hurt “their cause,” the federal government made concessions to the terrorists by passing Civil Rights Act of 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers then became increasingly militant, making excuses for riots and adding poverty to their list of criticisms. Even SNCC leader H. Rap Brown caused a racial uprising in Maryland with an incendiary speech. The government ceded yet again, passing the Civil Rights Acts of 1970, 1975 and 1985.
Professor Dershowitz’ March 11, 2002 proposal to give 24 hours of warning before bulldozing all the buildings in [small] Palestinian villages could be the future model of dealing with such terrorists in the United States. In the coming decades, the United States is likely to encounter terrorism at the behest of the disgruntled advocates for equality for homosexuals, minorities and the poor. Postal workers abject in their full-employment poverty have already menaced several workplaces. We saw adumbrations of this possibility as early 1932 in the poem by Langston Hughes, “Dream Deferred,” which noted that although a dream deferred could “dry up [l]ike a raisin in the sun,” it could also “explode,” threatening the regnant peace of one of the only true democracies in the Western Hemisphere.
Professor Dershowitz announces an alternative approach that the United States could follow if the festering sore of subjugation should metastasize to spawn terrorists from the ranks of the poor, homosexuals, women or racial minorities: “An alternative approach would be to announce in advance that Israel is prepared to give back most of the occupied territory in the event of peace — which it has already essentially done — but every act of terrorism will result in an automatic and permanent decrease of a specific portion of the land mass that eventually would constitute the Palestinian state.”
Thus, the states could begin by revoking their public accommodation laws. Upon every attack, the United States could segregate another level of public education, perhaps high schools, returning to the separate-but-not-equal status that characterizes Israel today. The prototype for this policy could be Israel’s prohibition against Palestinians attending their universities, retaining a free press, or accessing emergency rooms, water, orchards, the civil service, welfare or their jobs. Checkpoints could be set up outside Harlem, and all males from 15 to 50 years of age could be rounded up and identified by numbers written on their arms.
I hope it is obvious that this prescriptive traipse into the past is meretricious and facetious. Like many Americans, Professor Dershowitz has a kind heart and is probably unaware that he lobotomizes his thinking according to race. Perhaps he only advocates the announced bulldozer as a more humane alternative to the unannounced bulldozer, hellfire missiles, F-16s and flechettes, or the practice of guarding wounded Palestinians so relatives, ambulances and bystanders cannot render aid. Or that Israel would stop targeting water and electricity supply lines, churches, mosques, ambulances, hospitals, field clinics, schools, humanitarian organizations and visiting Harvard human rights fellows. I am sure he agonizes at the ratio of one Palestinian suspect killed or injured per two civilian bystanders permanently mutilated or killed, just as he grieves for the innocent Israelis killed by terrorists. So, I do not blame Dershowitz. Yet, over time, the dendrites of conscience will flicker and dim. Their boughs that used to distend across chasms of gray matter will become limp and enfeebled, making it all the more difficult to fuse the lobes of morality back together.
Last Thursday, a diverse group of students passed out literature and held signs outside Dershowitz’ putative class on Tactics and Ethics in Criminal Litigation. The class lecture that followed was only an acoustic reminder of the professor I used to admire wholeheartedly. Attending ethics class has now become the biggest ethical challenge I have encountered in law school.