flying while brown: september 11, 2011 edition

I had to fly on Sunday. Being the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I figured security would be especially tight, and an extra pain in the ass, so I gave myself plenty of time to do the usual dance with TSA.

But when I got to the airport, it was a ghost town. The terminal was nearly empty, and it had to be one of the quickest trips through a security checkpoint I've ever experienced in the last ten years (and I fly a lot). That was unexpected.

Unfortunately, September 11, 2011 did not go quite as smoothly for three passengers on Frontier Airlines 623, flying from Denver to Detroit, who were detained by authorities on the ground after the crew reported "suspicious activity" on board: No charges against 3 detained at Detroit airport.

The security issue? The article doesn't disclose that information. But could it be the fact that an Arab American woman just happened to be seated in the same row with two men of Indian descent -- who also apparently didn't know each other -- on this day of all days? Yup.

Shoshana Hebshi, who describes herself as "a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio," posted about her ordeal getting racially profiled, handcuffed and locked up for several hours -- all because of her appearance: Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit.
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.
Shoana had even been tweeting from the plane, wondering what the hell was going on ("Stuck on a plane at Detroit airport...cops everywhere"), right up until the armed officers marched up and took her and her rowmates away. I'm not so sure I could have shown the same composure if I'd been in her shoes.

While many of us looked back at the tragedy yesterday with a sense of loss and remembrance, this incident also reminds us of the ridiculous fear and prejudice that has taken hold and continually threatens to strangle us. The kind of fear and prejudice that gets jumpy-ass people seeing things when a guy simply gets up to take a piss. The kind of fear and prejudice that gets three people locked up for looking too brown and just trying to get home.

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