Democratic representative Ilhan Omar has responded to threats against her life with calls for restorative justice and healing — demonstrating once again her commitment to humane, progressive politics in the face of virulent hatred.
On Monday, a 55-year-old man named Patrick Carlineo Jr. pleaded guilty to targeting the Minnesota congresswoman with death threats and illegal possession of firearms, the New York Times reports. According to a criminal complaint, in March, Carlineo called Omar’s Washington office and asked a member of her staff, “Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood?” He went on, “Why are you working for her, she’s a [expletive] terrorist. Somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull. Back in the day, our forefathers would have put a bullet in her [expletive].”
As one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress and a staunch progressive, Omar has been the object of hateful and xenophobic political messaging ever since she assumed her office at the start of 2017. In July, for instance, Omar was one of four freshman representatives, all women of color, singled out by President Trump to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” As a teenager, Omar emigrated from Somalia to the United States, where her family received asylum.
On Tuesday, ahead of Carlineo’s sentencing, Omar tweeted out a letter she’d written to the presiding judge, imploring leniency and advocating for a “system of compassion.” Omar writes, “I do not believe the defendant would be served by a severe prison sentence or substantial financial fine and ask you to show compassion in your sentencing.” Explaining her reasoning, she writes:
“[W]ho are we as a nation if we respond to threats of political retribution with retribution ourselves?…. A punitive approach to criminal justice will not stop criminals like Mr. Carlineo from committing a crime again or prevent others from committing similar acts. Only restorative justice can do that. He should understand the consequences of his actions, be given the opportunity to make amends and seek redemption.”
Omar goes on to write that to prevent such crimes “we must address root causes.” She writes, “People who threaten to commit violence are often themselves the victims of systemic alienation and neglect. They seek violence because they are taught violence. We must address this systemic alienation through community reintegration and social services.”
This statement is nothing new for Omar, who ran for Congress on a criminal-justice platform that includes ending the War on Drugs, which disproportionately targets people of color, banning racial profiling at all levels of law enforcement, and outlawing private prisons, while investing in mental health care for people currently incarcerated and recently released from prison. She has also called for restoring voting rights to people with felony records and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.