The professional journalists covering the trial of the “Minnesota men” before Judge Michael Davis include the Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor. I rely on his work, as well as that of MPR’s Mukhtar Ibrahim and Laura Yuen, even when I am sitting next to him in court. Montemayor is a good and indefatigable reporter. If you want to know what’s going on during the day at trial, follow him on Twitter. He tweets everything of interest. He misses almost nothing.
Today, however, Montemayor presents as a case study in overlooking the obvious. He is unduly concerned by the racial composition of the jury. He thinks it’s a big deal that, while the three defendants are all black, the jury is all white. He has thus produced today’s Star Tribune story on the trial with Randy Furst: “Black defendants, white jurors: Does race make a difference in the courtroom?”
The story is laughably misplaced. Let’s take a time out for a reality check. Judge Davis is black. He interrogated prospective jurors about their attitudes toward minorities including blacks (and Somalis). He excused several for opinions they expressed in the process.
The case has been brought by Andrew Luger, the paragon of political correctness who is the United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota. He reports to Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General of the United States. She is black.
Race has nothing to do with the case. Minnesotans are not stupid. As a lifelong Minnesotan, I guarantee race is the last thing on the minds of the jurors in this case if it is on their minds at all.
Islam, however, permeates the case. The defendants are all Muslim. They are (or were) observant and ardent. They met and plotted inside local mosques. They wanted to join the Islamic State in Syria. They sought to wage jihad. They are charged with providing material support to ISIS and conspiring to commit murder with the group overseas.
Islam permeates the courtroom. The courtroom is packed with family and friends of the defendants. The Somali women in attendance all wear Somali garb and hijab. They’re Muslim.
When a prospective juror said she was uncomfortable even being in the room with the defendants — a moment mentioned by Montemayor — she wasn’t referring to their race. She was referring to their alleged support for ISIS. The substance of the case has made the news several times as six of defendants’ colleagues pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiring to provide material support for ISIS.
The court itself is awash in security concerns. One might infer that the prospective juror was neither alone nor unreasonable in her concerns. Entering the court through the first floor atrium, as we all do, one can’t miss the visibly armed DHS officers in police uniform and their bomb sniffing dogs. They spend all day standing around in the atrium. It’s not par for the course and it’s not because the defendants are black. It does, however, have something to do with Islam, as the defendants understand Islam.
There are, by the way, no Muslims on the jury. It’s amazing how the article fails to zero in on the one demographic factor of relevance to the case. George Orwell’s observation is not misplaced in this context: “To see what is in front of one’s nose is a constant struggle.” Especially when seeing (or saying you see) what is in front of one’s nose can get you called a bigot.