Via the awesome Ta-Nehisi Coates, here’s a story of a half-Jewish half-Arab woman blogger whose flight to Detroit turned into being handcuffed and questioned all apparently because she was sitting next to two Indians who took too long in the loo in the plane on September 11, 2011.
Someone shouted for us to place our hands on the seats in front of us, heads down. The cops ran down the aisle, stopped at my row and yelled at the three of us to get up. “Can I bring my phone?” I asked, of course. What a cliffhanger for my Twitter followers! No, one of the cops said, grabbing my arm a little harder than I would have liked. He slapped metal cuffs on my wrists and pushed me off the plane. The three of us, two Indian men living in the Detroit metro area, and me, a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio, were being detained.
The cops brought us to a parked squad car next to the plane, had us spread our legs and arms. Mine asked me if I was wearing any explosives. “No,” I said, holding my tongue to not let out a snarky response. I wasn’t sure what I could and could not say, and all that came out was “What’s going on?”
No one would answer me. They put me in the back of the car. It’s a plastic seat, for all you out there who have never been tossed into the back of a police car. It’s hard, it’s hot, and it’s humiliating. The Indian man who had sat next to me on the plane was already in the backseat. I turned to him, shocked, and asked him if he knew what was going on. I asked him if he knew the other man that had been in our row, and he said he had just met him. I said, it’s because of what we look like. They’re doing this because of what we look like. And I couldn’t believe that I was being arrested and taken away.
She says she’s half-Jewish and half Saudi Arabian but she also uses “Hebshi” for herself which would include some East African ancestry, a fairly common thing in the region. I mention this because American perceptions of Arab/Middle Eastern looks is darker than a lot of Middle Easterners actually look and is closer to South Asian complexion.
Here’s a news report about the incident.
Police temporarily detained and questioned three passengers at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport on Sunday after the crew of the Frontier Airlines flight from Denver reported suspicious activity on board, and NORAD sent two F-16 jets to shadow the flight until it landed safely, airline and federal officials said.
The three passengers who were taken off the plane in handcuffs were released Sunday night, and no charges were filed against them, airport spokesman Scott Wintner said.
Frontier Flight 623, with 116 passengers on board, landed without incident in Detroit at 3:30 p.m. EDT after the crew reported that two people were spending “an extraordinarily long time” in a bathroom, Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuck said.
FBI Detroit spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said ultimately authorities determined there was no real threat.
“Due to the anniversary of Sept. 11, all precautions were taken, and any slight inconsistency was taken seriously,” Berchtold said. “The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not.”
No, no, I would that they err on the side of common sense. Or if they want to err on the side of caution, then take it all the way and not even get out of bed because that could be dangerous.
Ta-Nehisi is considering boycotting flying. I am much more of a cynic, so my lessons from reading about this are different.
One, I am going to be a lot more careful about going to the plane toilets and make sure I don’t take too long or go more than once.
The second lesson I draw is not to sit next to any South Asian (or Middle Eastern) looking person on the plane. Especially a South Asian that I don’t know. I definitely don’t want to be arrested just because I was sitting next to an Indian/Pakistani who had constipation and spent too much time in the toilet and the authorities thought I knew them because all of us South Asians know each other, right?