Friday, June 05, 2015

05-Jun-15: Seeking truth in Boston

Aftermath of the Tuesday shooting outside a Boston suburban
CVS pharmacy [Image Source]
Right after the death by police shooting of a man in the Boston subirbs on Tuesday morning, June 2, 2015, there was a flurry of media focus on what the dead man's family and friends said about it.

The man who was shot is now known to be Usaamah Abdullah Rahim. The media currently feature a spate of news reports headlining open-ended questions, like "Boston terror suspect's shooting: What we know and don't know" from CNN. For the less disingenuous among us, there is actually quite a lot we do know.

Very shortly after the shooting, on Tuesday, the dead man's brother posted this on Facebook (it's still there now, and archived):
"Your Prayers Requested
This morning while at the bus stop in Boston, my youngest brother Usaama Rahim was waiting for the bus to go to his job. He was confronted by three Boston Police officers and subsequently shot in the back three times. He was on was on his cell phone with my dear father during the confrontation needing a witness. His last words to my father who heard the shots were:
I can’t breathe!
While at the hospital, Usaama Rahim died!
From Allah we come, and to Allah we return.
Imam Ibrahim Rahim"
Google that post and it's evident that huge numbers of people have commented on it, re-posted it and seen it. At the Boston Globe, they call Imam Ibrahim Rahim "a well-known imam" and "well-respected". His personal website explains that the Imam's educational qualifications and training are Saudi Arabian; he lived there for some years. His favourite saying is "Traveling Through A Strange Place, On My Way Back To Allah".

That Facebook post of his has been exquisitely politely termed "a version of the shooting at odds with the official version". It certainly is that.

Two days later, it appears the testimony of the brother, the Imam, even on his own terms, is not what it seemed, He has "stepped back from initial claims he made". Standing "in front of a throng of media in the same parking lot" where his brother had been stopped by police on Tuesday, he "didn’t speak, but [the family's lawyer] told reporters that he regrets his comments and that there’s still a lot left to learn about what happened".

As for the factual, evidentiary basis for the widely published plea he had issued on Tuesday, the explanation is rudimentary, and not too apologetic:
He heard what he believed to be his brother’s last moments from a third party, and in his grief, posted it to social media. "The family wants to be very careful to not engage in rank speculation,” said Sullivan, a Harvard Law School professor. “What the family wants is to enter into a joint relationship with the investigators to get to the truth." [Source]
Better late than never.

This is the knife, one of 3 said to have been bought online by Rahim,
in the previous week, that was removed from the scene of the
Boston shooting [Image Source]
What's known about Usaamah (or Osama) Abdullah Rahim, now
deceased, is quite a lot, though not enough:
Meanwhile the views of the family, friends and advocates of the dead man remain open to alternative interpretations:
  • Rahim’s neighbor told The Boston Globe Rahim "was a kind man who lived with his wife in an apartment on Blue Ledge Drive... "He was sweet. I saw a sweetness [to] him... Who knows what was in his head?" [source]
  • Arab American Association of New York: Linda Sarsour, its executive director, speaking of the surveillance video, says "I don’t know what it shows or doesn’t show. Questions still remain." She says [Telegraph UK, June 4, 2015] that "the dead man was black, not Middle Eastern as some reports claimed". And on her Facebook page, she goes further, calling what happened "the murder of Usaama Rahim, a Black Muslim brother from Boston. He was shot by Boston Police and FBI. Before you post the media's perspective or government's - there are many unanswered questions. They have added a national security component to divide and conquer the movement. At the end of the day, a Black man was shot on a bus stop on his way to work and we should treat this like any other case of police violence. All we want is answers to our questions..."
  • Ummah Wide ("a digital media startup focused on stories and cultures that transcend the global borders and boundaries of the Muslim, Interfaith and Human family"): Its executive editor Dustin Craun writes "Usaama Rahim, #479 Killed by US Police in 2015 & the First Victim to Be Instantly Named a Terrorist... Unfortunately, this case is also another example of how far media outlets will go to fit police narratives". And this: "Boston has a long history of spying and policing African Amerian communities more than any other community in Boston, so it is not surprising that the African American Muslim community would become the focus of local FBI & Boston PD spying."
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): Ibrahim Hooper, its spokesman, asks "Were there any video cameras or body cameras of the incident? How do you reconcile the two versions of the story, the family version being that he was on his normal commute to work at a bus stop?” [TIME Magazine, June 2, 2015]
  • CAIR's Civil Rights Litigation director issued a statement that included this: "It is our duty to question every police-involved shooting to determine if the use of deadly force was necessary, particularly given the recent high profile shootings of African-American men. We are asking for an independent and thorough investigation..."
  • A woman who says she is Rahim's aunt and who identified herself only as Karen said to reporters yesterday (Thursday): "There was no plot. There was no scheming... As you all know, with the current slaughter of black men that's going on across the nation, that's enough to make any black man feel threatened... There's a lot of black men and black people that are angry at the cops and putting things out on social media about the cops... When you add Islam, everybody in the media wants to put 'terrorism' in there." [NBC News, June 4, 2015]
  • The family lawyer: "We’d simply ask that you respect this born and bred American family... They have lost someone and whatever you think he may or may not have done, they lost a loved one. They are grieving..." [Boston Globe, June 4, 2015]
  • Ismail Abdurrashid from the Mosque for the Praising of Allah, Roxbury, MA [Boston Herald, June 4, 2015]: "He enjoyed studying his religion... He was very studious. There’s nothing about him that would have struck me or anyone from amongst us to be odd... He sometimes sat in the front row for Friday sermon at the Roxbury mosque. He wore the traditional Sunnah dress and a long beard... He was a very typical, American young adult... the all-American boy..."
Now, about those born-and-bred all-American references, Rahim graduated from Brookline High School in Boston in 2007, after spending ninth grade going to a Saudi Arabia high school [source]. A New York Times investigation ["Portrait of Suspect in Boston Is Disputed", NYT, June 4, 2015] observes about this 'sweet', 'All-American' young man what we have not seen elsewhere:
[H]e did little to hide his extreme views, which may have developed in South Florida. “Usaamah was tuned in a lot with online Islam,” said Yahya Abdullah Rivero, who attended mosque with Mr. Rahim in Miami. “He kept an ear to everything that was mentioned about Islam online. I know he used to listen to some extreme imams online” ...[He and Wright] maintained Facebook pages under assumed names where they posted photos of Islamic militants and “liked” the pages of radical clerics, strict Islamic law and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL... Mr. Rahim appears to have posted under the name Abu Sufyaan on a page where he “liked” the Islamic State in Iraq in 2012, and also “liked” radical clerics, Sharia law and guns... Mr. Rahim was the youngest of five siblings. His older brother Ibrahim told The Boston Globe in 2007 that their father, Abdullah Rahman Rahim, joined the Nation of Islam in 1974, then converted to mainstream Islam in 1978.
The Boston Herald reported yesterday [here] that Rahim "called his father before he was fatally shot Tuesday to tell him goodbye". 

As Linda Sarsour might have put it, we "don’t know what it shows or doesn’t show. Questions still remain". But we know quite a lot. We can expect the law enforcement agencies do too.

A final note. When the Imam brother of the dead man posted his Facebook note, he used an oddly familiar turn of phrase. That provoked this  comment over at PJmedia:
“I can’t breathe” were the last words of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man selling cigarettes who was put in a chokehold by a New York police officer and died last year. Those words have been a rallying cry of protesters in cases of black men killed by police.

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