Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more than 500 terrorism cases, yet there remains scant public understanding of what these federal cases have actually looked like and the impact they have had on communities and families. Published by The Nation in collaboration with Educators for Civil Liberties, the America After 9/11 series features contributions from scholars, researchers and advocates to provide a systematic look at the patterns of civil rights abuses in the United States’ domestic “war on terror.”
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On a miserable Monday evening in early April, when most people were scuttling for the nearest subway, a motley group was huddled before an unremarkable grey building in lower Manhattan, declaiming into the rain.
“[In 2006] we fought for Shifa’s safety, we fought for the Sadequee family’s safety, we fought for all of our safety,” said a woman standing in front of the crowd. “[Today] we must still come together across religious and spiritual traditions, across race and nations, across sexuality, across our beliefs, for our collective safety and livelihood.”
The woman was Cara Page, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project and a prominent black queer activist; “Shifa” was Ehsanul “Shifa” Sadequee, a young man convicted of terrorism-related charges five years ago. The two had little obvious in common, but Page had been in Atlanta at the time of his trial and a member of the Free Shifa campaign, a coalition of supporters who argued that his prosecution and detention were unjust. It was proof, they said, that the inhumane detention of “War on Terror” suspects has occurred on American soil, too. Years later, most of the world had moved on from Sadequee’s story, but Page, like the others bundled around her, had not.
“We’re gonna build a nation/ that don’t torture no one/ but it’s gonna take courage/ for that change to come,” chanted Luke Nephew, a Bronx-based spoken word poet who had trekked to lower Manhattan for the vigil. After singing a few rounds the rest of the crowd joined in. Friends and strangers locked eyes and nodded—a small moment of peaceful resistance in the face of an uphill struggle.
Such was the third monthly gathering of No Separate Justice, a campaign to highlight the systemic inequities embedded in America’s domestic criminal justice system—the same system which is so often held up as a righteous alternative to Guantánamo. On this Monday, they had come to highlight Sadequee’s story. The weather had whittled their ranks—there were only twenty or so—but what they lacked in size they made up for in determination.
Among the crowd were participants who had come from as far as Iowa; Washington, DC; and Philadelphia. They were Muslim community leaders, professors, students, journalists and activists from deep in the trenches of the animal rights, LGBTQ and prison rights movements. One of Sadequee’s relatives was also there. For some, this was the first time they had trekked to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where men like Sadequee have been known to molder for years in pre-trial solitary confinement. Others had been attending since the first vigil in February, determined to bear witness to the lopsided system of justice that has sprouted inside MCC and many other prisons across America.