It’s not easy grabbing a few hours of downtime when you’re desperately trying to keep yourself in contention for the Republican nomination for president, but if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) gets a chance over the weekend, he should see Disney’s new hit animated feature “Zootopia."
The movie is about an evolved city populated by anthropomorphic animals where all kinds of creatures live in harmony -- predators and prey -- until something happens that shakes up their peaceful existence. The movie has been a major hit for Disney, grossing more than $200 million and currently in the top spot at the box office.
"Zootopia" is great fun, but for a kids’ film it also packs a pretty serious message about racial profiling. In short: Policing people based on the color of their skin -- or in the movie’s case, mammal type -- is a terrible strategy. Not only is it ineffective, but profiling also pits citizens against each other, rending the very fabric that holds society together.
Cruz is not on board with that message, it would seem. On Tuesday, not that long after terrorist bombings in Brussels killed at least 31 people and injured 270, he was quick to say we should police all Muslims in the U.S. to prevent attacks here.
“We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” he said in a statement.
The next day, under heavy criticism, he doubled down, defending himself against what he called “political correctness.” Cruz pointed to a controversial post-9/11 surveillance program run in New York City as a good example of what he has in mind.
Yet that sweeping program was entirely ineffective -- it didn't lead to any arrests or new terror cases in six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods. This New York magazine story is a must-read for anyone who thinks patrolling entire populations is a good idea.
Even without reading the detailed look at how the NYPD program failed to do much more than expose police officers to delicious food at the Kabul Kabob House in Flushing, Queens, consider what slapping the label of “potential terrorist” on an entire group of people would mean to those people.
Would the feeling that your very own government thought you were a baddie serve to make you feel more like a citizen, or less? Would it endear you to your leaders and local law enforcement workers and make you want to help them? Would it make other people more or less kind and neighborly toward you?
This is a key issue in "Zootopia." The movie’s protagonist -- a feisty, animated bunny, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, seeks to become the first rabbit police officer in the city. And in her push to make it, she faces all kinds of blowback and discrimination. At one point she tells another animal, “A bunny can call another bunny cute, but you can’t!”
Representatives from Ted Cruz's campaign did not respond to The Huffington Post's query about whether Cruz had seen the film.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]
The bunny does become a cop. For a while, she’s relegated to meter maid status because she’s viewed as an incompetent "token bunny," but ultimately she winds up on a pretty big, complex case.
Something’s gone deeply wrong in Zootopia, she discovers: Predator animals (tigers, foxes) are going “native,” and killing prey.
Our bunny hero, instead of trying to figure out what’s going on, suggests publicly that these animals are just returning to their true “nature.” Everyone takes this as a signal that predatory mammals must be heavily watched, locked up, shunned.
Havoc follows. The city is torn apart as everyone starts shunning predator animals, and citizens live under a haze of fear, paranoia and suspicion.
Ted Cruz really should find out what happens next.