Armed with a drink in one hand, and a snack in the other, an American teenager’s life was brought to an abrupt end by a man armed with much more potent tools: a penchant for racial profiling and the deadly capability to eliminate anyone he deemed a danger. Motivated by the belief that individuals who looked suspicious — folks who followed a specific pattern of behavior –were a threat to his community, he decided to make an executive decision and took the life of a boy he knew virtually nothing about.
Although killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki did not incite the nation-wide outrage that the slaying of Trayvon Martin did, the circumstances that led to their tragic and untimely deaths are similar. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old from Denver, Colorado, was killed in a U.S. drone strike authorized by President Barack Obama on October 14th, 2011. At the time of his death, Abdulrahman was eating a barbecue dinner with his cousin and several other teenagers. The supposed target of the strike, al-Qaeda leader Ibrahim Banna, supposedly remains at large. Meanwhile, in the midst of false reports that Abdulrahman was a 21-year-old terror suspect, a U.S. official claimed that the boy’s death was a result of simply being in the “wrong place, at the wrong time.”
That explanation was not good enough for what is left of Abdulrahman’s family. Nasser al-Awlaki, father of Anwar and grandfather of Abdulrahman, filed a lawsuit in federal court both before and after the deaths of his descendants. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, the former Fulbright Scholar and University of Nebraska professor argued that someone should be held accountable for the death of his grandson – and that the drone programs of the CIA and DoD need more transparency.
On the very same day that President Obama elected to give an impromptu speech concerning this country’s history of institutionalized racism and racial profiling, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer presided over the case brought by the surviving Al-Awlaki.Much like Trayvon’s untimely death likely could have been avoided if not for the racist ideology that led George Zimmerman to suspect Trayvon was a threat, Abdulrahman’s death by drone strike also could have been avoided if not for the maladroit policy that has resulted in the deaths of at least 176 children in Pakistan alone.
While thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest the untimely death of Trayvon, a fraction of our populace even know Abdulrahman’s name. And to most Americans, the 176 brown children killed by our President may forever remain nameless examples of “collateral damage.” As our President urges congress to enact more legislation that would result in more equitable treatment for Americans of all colors, perhaps that rationale should be extended to our foreign policy.
Jonathan Nomamiukor is the Managing Editor of the Harvard Law Record.
The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.