CVE Programs: Criminalizing Identity

Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reallocated its CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) funding to grant recipients. The original grant recipients were released in January 2017, but the $10 million in CVE grant awards were frozen pending the new Administration’s budget proposal to cut funding. Reallocation was also necessary after a few courageous recipients declined the money upon reflection of the CVE as a profiling and surveillance tool. The new Administration’s impact on reallocation was evident in DHS’s rescission of Life After Hate’s grant award. Life After Hate was the only entity that initially received a grant to tackle white nationalism based violence. The new Administration has also made it clear in multiple ways that religion (Islam) is the target, and the CVE program is no different.

Now, CVE has been problematic from its infancy for a number of reasons, namely that there is no scientific basis and focuses on speech, thoughts and beliefs, not actual violence. The reality is that behind all the facade and messaging campaign by the government, CVE is just another way to criminalize identity; to be Arab, to be Muslim. It lends to the dehumanization of these communities, and masks targeting of these communities and mass infringement of their rights. The targeting of these communities has economic incentives because CVE has become a business. It has become clear that law enforcement agencies are willing to exploit the same community that they pledged to serve and protect.

In documents obtained through a public records request by the Muslim Justice League, the Police Foundation’s DHS CVE grant proposal with the Boston Police Department feeds into the ill-conceived narrative that erasure and/or disconnect from their identity is the only way to ensure that they are law abiding person. The grant proposal states “The biggest consideration going forward is the future of the Somali youth . . . It is uncertain whether they will remain attached to the older generation and, more important, whether they will seek conventional means by which to achieve economic and social advancement and secure their place in a productive social life or fall into criminal activity.” This “securitization” approach to the Arab and Muslim communities is gravely counterproductive and ill-conceived. The idea that identity predisposes certain to violence, and that you can pre-determine who will commit crime is false. It sounds ridiculous and discriminatory, and it is ridiculous and discriminatory. Alarmingly, the Police Foundation, Boston Police Department and their co-recipients have received $484,835 from DHS to implement this CVE program in Boston.

This misinformed approach in Boston is compounded by the grant recipients endorsing “unaccountable times and unobserved spaces” as a identifiable risk factor for Somali-American male youth. Based on the proposals needs based analysis, those who are immigrant, poor, living in government housing and go to public schools are the one’s particularly “at risk.” So the same-old socio-economic stereotypes recycled once again. But what does unaccountable times and unobserved spaces actually mean? It is arbitrary and raises further questions on the application of this factor and the Boston CVE program overall: Who is observing? What are they doing with their observations? Are they reporting their observations to law enforcement and what are the criteria to report? What happens after the observations are reported? Who are the youth accountable to and why? Are there pre-approved observed spaces? The question-issue areas that could be raised are endless, and even providing answers to these questions, would not make these actions okay. It is not okay for any person to be controlled and monitored, for their freedom of movement, thoughts, speech to be restricted for anything because the government says so. It is not okay to effectively imprison people within their own communities.

The Boston CVE program is not an anomaly. This national security lenses perspective by law enforcement to the Arab and Muslim community is present throughout CVE programs. However, its clear presence in the actual grant proposal; even after mass efforts by civil rights and community groups that exposed CVE programs’ actual intent, purpose, and effect as a profiling and surveillance mechanism surveillance and profiling; affirms that CVE is part of a systematic problem. The fact is that government and law enforcement entities attack the community that CVE is “suppose” to help: ICE raids in the Somali and Iraqi communities, baseless detention at airports, the Muslim Ban, the use of entrapment tactics and informants, mass surveillance, and political rhetoric emboldening hate violence. These policies and practices are interconnected because the anti-Arab, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment is systematic. It is part of the foundation of the national security industry, mass development of new (not good) law and surveillance mechanisms, and secret ad hoc “judicial” bodies (FISC).

CVE does not operate in a vacuum. Our country’s law enforcement agencies are bold, but at the end of the day, no one is fooled. CVE will not work.

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