Race, News, Social Justice

Dear media, you failed Nazma Khanam

We've been mourning a police officer's aunt instead of a community member.

Imagine this: a woman is stabbed and killed at 9:30pm on a Sunday evening a few blocks from your house. Her name is Nazma Khanam. Her husband is just barely behind, and catches up only in time to hold her as her life slips away.

You live in one of, if not the biggest Bangladeshi-Muslim neighborhoods in the entire country. Your parents, as always, tell you it’s not safe to go outside. Perhaps for the first time, you agree.

People on your TV are saying it was a robbery. Some of them don’t even say her name. When they come to Nazma’s headline they talk about the aunt of an NYPD transit cop who was killed on Normal Road in Jamaica, New York.

People in your streets are saying it was a hate crime. There are hundreds at her janazah service. Even the uncles are chanting in protest in front of the local masjid.

An arrest is made. The alleged murderer is identified as Yonatan Galvez-Marin, 22 years old, also living in your neighborhood. People draw parallels between Khanam’s murder and the shooting of two Muslim clerics nearby a few weeks before because both cases’ perpetrators are Hispanic.

You can stop imagining now, because you’ve probably already realized this is reality. The death of Nazma Khanam was met by a wave of ignorance – people have voluntarily omitted key parts of her identity in their efforts to report on the crime committed against her. Nazma Khanam was a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh, where she spent years as a schoolteacher. She was married with three children.

But it seems as if we’ve reduced Khanam’s identity to just the men she was related to. Major reporters describe her first as “Muslim Officer’s Aunt” or “NYPD cop’s aunt”. Yes, it is important that we recognize Khanam’s relationships to people who are left behind, but we can’t define her and her experiences as being newsworthy solely because she was related to an NYPD officer.

Not only is it disrespectful to her memory and a kick in the face to the NYC Muslim community that has been criminalized and surveilled for years by the NYPD, but it is a carbon copy of the reaction of mass media when they disregard the race or religion of victims of violent crime and pivot around the words “hate crime”.

And of course Khanam’s murder is not the first hate crime against Muslims in the US: in only the last few weeks we’ve lost Imam Maulama Akhonjee and Thara Miah in New York, then Khalid Jabara in Tulsa, and most recently on August 31st Nazma Khanam (less than 10 miles from where Akhonjee and Miah were killed). And as investigations are going on and arrests are being made, media coverage of each individual attack has varied in its own oppressive way.

People will remember these victims by whatever the headlines said most often, and it’s an utter disgrace that Nazma Khanam could be remembered as little more than a transit cop’s aunt, and that the crime committed against her will be dubbed as a robbery gone too far, or the “parking dispute” of 2016. Say her name. Give Nazma Khanam back her autonomy and her identity.