Coming home yesterday to learn about an act of vicious, pre-meditated racial terrorism in Buffalo, NY left me in mourning—not only for the nearly dozen victims killed in the attack, but also the thousands of communities across the country now terrified of copycat attacks in their own neighborhoods.

Those concerns grew only stronger after yet another mass shooting the very next day here in California targeting Asian-American churchgoers in Orange County.

Does it feel unfamiliar to witness terrorism on U.S. soil?

However gruesome the news may be, we must grapple with its uncomfortable relationship to documented U.S. history.

A history too many Americans never learn

Remember the decades during which the KKK laid siege to the South—and many parts of our country well beyond it, from Connecticut to Oregon. In 1963, KKK terrorists bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young Black girls, and shocking the conscience of the entire country.

That was a single incident among literally thousands of them.

In 1995, bombers espousing right-wing ideas bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, OK, killing 168 people, damaging over 300 buildings as many as 16 blocks away, and causing over $650 million in property damage.

Ten years earlier, the Philadelphia police department bombed a building from a helicopter, ultimately razing an entire city block to the ground.

A century earlier, right here in San Francisco, a three-day race riot included the murders of 4 Chinese-American residents and multiple acts of arson targeting businesses owned by Chinese-Americans. The violence and terror stopped only due to the intervention of local and state authorities backed up by thousands of armed local residents who organized to resist the mob violence parading through our streets.

Similar anti-Chinese pogroms were repeated in every major city up and down the west coast.

I’m not here to make anyone feel good. I’m here to speak the truth.

And the truth is that violence, hate, and greed are as American as apple pie. They have historically been the reality obscured by bipartisan rhetoric emphasizing liberty, justice, and community.

However dejecting the news might feel, remember: this is nothing new. And We the People of the United States have overcome worse in the past.

How Congress should respond

Yesterday’s events were horrific. It’s safe to say they won’t be the last of their kind.

That’s why these acts of domestic terror demand a thoughtful policy response. It’s crucial that we get that response right, rather than allow it to be used as a power grab for policing and intelligence agencies.

First, Congress must tighten gun control restrictions. It is senseless to allow military assault-style weapons to remain widely available, even after recurring demonstrations that they pose a profound, pervasive, and continuing threat to public safety.

Having seen the obstacle presented by the right-wing Supreme Court in its 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision (which struck down municipal gun control measures based on a novel reading of the Second Amendment), we know that’s not enough.

That’s why our proposal to end judicial life tenure matters so much, in terms of checking and balancing the Court through a neutral process that could restore its political independence. The alternative is to allow nine unelected voices to impose their will on the rest of the country.

Many voices will clamor for new domestic intelligence powers, authorities, and programs to prevent acts of racial terror before they happen. These voices will predictably sidestep how pervasive domestic surveillance has already grown, and how demonstrably useless it has proven from a security standpoint.

Rather than further expand domestic surveillance efforts that have already proven to be a security failure and a constitutional nightmare, Congress should be asking hard questions. For instance, how many investigations of right-wing terror have been stymied for a lack of resources?

This is not an abstract question. Former FBI Special Agent Michael German went public in 2004 to alert Congress to failures within the FBI, and the Bureau’s insistence on prioritizing fake plots to entrap Muslims over investigations into real threats of the sort that alarmed us all yesterday.

The solution to prevents acts of domestic terror is not to spend more, or vote harder, or to further empower agencies whose failures instead demand accountability. Those approaches simply repeat the failures that drove us all here.

In contrast, one vehicle for a solution has been absent since 1976: congressional oversight.

Someone needs to scrutinize domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies to make sure that they’re showing up for work, doing the hard work of following up on leads, and securing evidence to support criminal prosecutions where appropriate.

Every time Congress has performed that scrutiny, it has found wanton violations of civil rights and civil liberties. Yet because Congress generally defers to the agencies rather than holding them accountable for their failures, each of their serial shortcomings has tended on only further bloat their budgets.

We already have laws on the books to protect civil rights and empower federal authorities. We don’t need new laws to make police or intelligence agencies even more unaccountable.

We need agencies charged with public safety to do their jobs. That’s what congressional oversight is for. But it has collapsed over the past generation.

Rooting out racism from vigilante violence to biased policing

Absent oversight ultimately invites corruption, as well as institutional biases. Those biases were on clear display yesterday.

After killing nearly a dozen people, wounding more, and terrorizing everyone in the grocery store that he had attacked, Payton Gendron—a white teenager not unlike Kyle Rittenhouse—was allowed to surrender to authorities.

Meanwhile, every year, hundreds of innocent Black and Brown Americans are gunned down for no reason at all.

Extrajudicial killings by authorities are bad enough. But when juxtaposed with their deference to even murderous, racist, white supremacist violence, the pattern grows even more offensive.

It’s vital that efforts to prevent vigilante violence not further exacerbate the ongoing plagues of lethal state violence and predatory profiling. That’s all the more reason to re-establish oversight, and to pass new legislation to guard civil rights, as we have long proposed.

Meeting the needs of today’s crises

I’m eager to get to Congress in order to help Washington make better decisions. From enacting gun control to imposing judicial term limits, and from scrutinizing proposals that would further expand ineffective surveillance to championing oversight that others abandoned and guarding civil rights from state violence, our ideas meet the needs of today’s crises.

Any voice trying to sell you a vision of political cotton candy, pretending that the solutions to our problems are as simple as voting for more Democrats, is blowing smoke up your behind.

Understand what time it is, and what the stakes are.

When mourning today for the ten Black lives lost yesterday to senseless violence, save some thoughts for the countless victims poised to be chased into early graves—whether by racist vigilantes, or paramilitary police, or a seemingly inexorable pandemic, or accelerating climate chaos—unless We the People force the changes in public policy on which the future depends.

As we were warned by a former President, “We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of…defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Thanks for being alert, for seeking knowledge—and for standing with us! We hope with your support to help bring this repugnant series of incidents to an inglorious end.

Your voice,
Shahid