Stereotypes don’t hurt just feelings – they are used to justify oppression and war crimes
Nga Ruben Avxhiu
An article on New York Daily News wrote on Thursday, June 4th, that an immigrant from Albania, Dzenan Camovic (pictured above), was the author of an unprovoked knife attack against a police office in Brooklyn.
The episode coincided with the mass protest rallies of these days in New York and around the country over allegations of abuse from the police, but it didn’t take place during the riots and may have nothing to do with the current situation. Believe it or not, a connection to ISIS is among the avenues the investigation is pursuing.
We thank the members of our community and in particular Mr. Olloman Sela, who called our offices and our publisher Vehbi Bajrami with complains that the alleged perpetrator had been wrongly identified as Albanian.
After we intervened via emails, tweets etc the text was changed. The readers who called us had been right. The edited text by New York Daily News now describes Camovic as believed to be a Bosnian immigrant.
The outrage this news provoked in our community is justified. Understandably, as every other community, we too have our bad apples. The problem however is that one too many times, criminals who are not Albanian are described as such. And in some cases, gangs and criminal groups have been described as “Albanian” only because they have a couple of Albanian-Americans in their midst.
“It is an ugly bias that feeds a stereotype,” Vehbi Bajrami, the publisher of Illyria, said. “Corrections of news items are not enough anymore. Where did these journalists find out that he was Albanian? Why do we have to intervene for them to check the facts?”
He is right because the damage now is done. While our colleagues at NYDN reacted positively and reviewed their text, the original version has already been used by sensationalist British tabloids like Daily Mail or a number of mostly-Serbian racist accounts on websites like reddit and social media that specialize in stereotyping Albanians. Twenty years after the war in Kosova, many Serbian sources continue to justify their horrific war crimes, unseen in Europe since Holocaust, by promoting the stereotype of the Albanian criminal or terrorist.
We have been told that CNN too had mentioned Camovic as “Albanian” and we are working to see if that can be verified and changed. (If someone has seen an actual videoclip of it, please share it with us.) A message has been passed to the corresponding editor at the New York Daily News, while no response has come yet from authors of the news at Daily Mail.
These have been nervous days everywhere in the United States and although people are divided over the methods of protest, no one disputes the right of communities to raise their voice when their members are abused or their image is blemished by the law enforcement, media, or any institution in the system.
“One of the early things that I noticed when I moved to US was that whenever Albanians were mentioned in the local press, it was either about a crime or a tragedy”, said Bajrami, who is also the author of “Shqiptarët e Amerikës”, a voluminous work on some of the most distinguished members of our diaspora from the end of 19th century. “We should be proud of our contribution in New York and the United States”.
Indeed Albanian-Americans are a great part of the social fabric that makes New York a great place. More than a hundred of them are members of NYPD and other law enforcement agencies. Many have distinguished themselves by saving lives. On the other hand, many young Albanian-Americans have joined the protests. Like other communities, we too are involved in heated debates among each-other about the best ways to deal with problems of racism, justice and law and order. Thousands of Albanians in New York are employed as essential workers and many of them have been in the frontlines during the COVID-19 crisis. Albanians are employers and employees and the community has played a particular role in the revival of The Bronx and the New York City after the dark years of the late 70s. The story of the Albanians of New York is very similar with that of Albanians in many other parts of the country. We should defend our image and remain vigilant and active in fighting stereotypes which are not only baseless and offensive, but have cost thousands of lives in our original homeland in the Balkans.