Hey, you know Ahmad Khan Rahami, right? Yeah mate, google that mug. He’s our man, tell us if you spot him.
The real text message, sent to New Yorkers using an emergency response system, was a little less casual: “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9–1–1 if seen.” But it’s annoyed critics of sloppy policing and convinced some area Muslims that it’s not a good day to be out on the streets.
The wireless emergency alert system is for Amber Alerts, alerts from the President, and imminent threats to public safety. It’s a bad idea to use such a rudimentary, text-only, in-your-face alert system to directly deputize 13m people in the search of a man with a common Arab name.
It provides no useful contextual information, warns of no imminent danger. It essentially deputizes the five boroughs and encourages people to treat anyone who looks like he might be named “Ahmad Khan Rahami” with suspicion. In a country where people are routinely harassed and assaulted for just appearing to be Muslim, this is remarkably ill-advised.
Shoutout to my fellow brown persons who originally planned on taking the subway to the airport today with luggage pic.twitter.com/Lz0tiiD7uv
— kenyatta cheese (@kenyatta) September 19, 2016
It’s a good example of how something’s intended strengths—emergency management systems, terror legislation, and so forth—are exposed as weaknesses when cops abuse them in the hope of a quick collaring or easier prosecutions. They should know that whatever their intentions, the result of this foolish message would be a “Muslim hunt” more suited to a subreddit than the streets of New York City.
I can’t help but wonder how useful Amber Alerts are in this format, too.
America, if you see the man in the photograph, you know what to do.