“I understand the desire to hold someone accountable for this heinous act of violence. Omar Mateen is dead. He cannot be punished. It is only logical the world would look next to Noor Salman.” — Foreman, Noor Salman jury.
In June 2016 Omar Mateen entered the Pulse Nightclub and killed 49 people, wounding at least 53 more in what was then the worst mass shooting in American history. The entire nation, and especially our local community, was suddenly awash in a wave of confusion, anger and fear. Omar Mateen, after all, was Muslim, and his religious affiliation fueled speculation about the shooting being a terrorist attack. And once the word ‘terrorist’ was mentioned, Mateen’s death was not punishment enough.
Years ago, in the days and weeks following the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, America adopted a new slogan—a mantra, if you would— to aid in preventing future terrorist attacks: “if you see something, say something.”
This slogan was soon posted everywhere—on billboards, buses, taxis and subway trains. Public service videos in various languages were produced. The nation’s reaction to that act was certainly justified. It was, after all, the first time we’d ever experienced such an attack from outside sources on American soil. But the downside of our focus on the possibility of more terrorist attacks turned us overnight into a nation of crusaders, with some of us seeing terrorism in every forgotten briefcase, every package left behind in a public place by mistake. And it brought us to a place where according to a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)/Religion News Service poll, 75 percent of us see terrorism as a “critical concern.”
But here’s the rub: According to New America, just 94 people have been killed in America by violent jihadist attacks in the following 15 years; 48 died in far-right-wing attacks, and In the same period, far more people—more than 500,000– have died in car accidents.
Maybe the jury foreman’s assessment is the most accurate statement of how the government came to this prosecution of Noor Salman in the first place—the desire to punish someone for the many deaths that occurred is what led to the charging of his widowed wife. As he said: Omar Mateen is dead.
But today, Noor Salman is free.
Friends and relatives of the victims are saddened– some outraged– by the verdict because they wanted her to pay for what her dead husband did. She knew, so she should have told someone. Many, many lives could have been saved.
But that sentiment is equally true of the many people who witness crimes outside their doors and turn a blind eye because they don’t want to get involved. Rapists and murderers get away only to rape and kill again because people who see them, people who know them, don’t say anything. But such is our way of life. We don’t send people to prison for knowing, whether they choose to tell or not.
Should Salman have been charged in the first place? Attorney Huma Yasin thinks not. In an op-ed she penned for the Washington Post, Yasin said:
”Prosecutors offered no evidence Mateen, who had claimed ties to radical Islamist groups, would have confided in Salman, given he had carried on multiple extramarital affairs without her consent or knowledge. Nor did Salman have access to a shared bank account that would have tipped her off. Court documents reveal Mateen beat Salman while pregnant, raped her and threatened to kill her.
It’s not clear whether or not any of that mattered to the jury, however. Despite the jurors’ belief that she knew about the attack, they decided to acquit. The foreman notes in his post-trial statement that Salman’s knowledge of her husband’s actions was not the issue:
“She may not have known what day, or what location, but she knew. However, we were not tasked with deciding if she was aware of a potential attack. The charges were aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice. . . .[B]ased on the letter of the law, and the detailed instructions provided by the court, we were presented with no option but to return a verdict of not guilty.”
Clearly, sharing one’s knowledge of possible criminal behavior is desirable. Thwarting crime before it takes places does, in fact, save lives. But one must do more than come into information. To its credit, the jury did not give in to need to make somebody suffer, and the legal system worked just the way that it should.