Seeing Ghosts in the Air

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikerollinger/

Browns on a Plane is an American horror story not featuring Samuel Jackson and not coming to a theater near you, though it did make its way onto a Detroit-bound flight yesterday and may be replayed on select 9/11 anniversary flights as long as brown people continue to fly the fear-filled skies. To learn more about the plot of this real-life tale, read Shoshana Hebshi’s personal account of being on one of the two flights that were escorted by fighter jets to their destination yesterday on September 11–“Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit.” Hebshi is a self-described “half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife” from Ohio who sat next to two Indian men on the Frontier Airlines Flight 623, two men who used the restroom at some point during the flight.

Her account describes how the three of them were cuffed and placed in a squad car, driven to the airport police station/Homeland Security office, detained, questioned, and strip-searched without much explanation. It seems that someone reported her and the two men for suspicious activity.

Again, I asked what was going on, and the man said judging from their line of questioning that I could probably guess, but that someone on the plane had reported that the three of us in row 12 were conducting suspicious activity. What is the likelihood that two Indian men who didn’t know each other and a dark-skinned woman of Arab/Jewish heritage would be on the same flight from Denver to Detroit? Was that suspicion enough? Even considering that we didn’t say a word to each other until it became clear there were cops following our plane? Perhaps it was two Indian man going to the bathroom in succession? (Stories from the Heartland)

 

After she was released to go home, a police officer apologized to her and offered an explanation:

He said the three of us were being released and there was nothing suspicious found on the plane. He apologized for what had happened and thanked me for understanding and cooperating. He said, “It’s 9/11 and people are seeing ghosts. They are seeing things that aren’t there.” He said they had to act on a report of suspicious behavior, and this is what the reaction looks like.     He said there had been 50 other similar incidents across the country that day. (Stories from the Heartland)

 

A brown person triggering an airplane passenger or crew member’s fears to the point of flight delay or flight ejection by just being brown or doing something mundane like going to the bathroom, praying, talking in another language, or wearing traditional clothing, etc., is not new. Various archive posts here and news articles over the years would show that. But the level of response on this occasion, which included the North American Aerospace Defense Command sending two F16 jets to shadow the flight because the crew noticed two Indian men using the bathroom at different times for an “extraordinarily long time” (next time try knocking?), is notable. It send an ominous message–that being brown is suspicious, being brown on a plane more so, and “Don’t Be Brown on a Plane on 9/11.”

29 thoughts on “Seeing Ghosts in the Air

      • Your ire should be directed at the Department of Homeland Suspicion. “if you see something, say something” is their motto. So this naturally follows.

  1. I need to consult a lawyer at some point to know what my rights are if I am ever caught up in such a situation. Obama, Bush. Same old police state like tactics. I actually do not mind profiling as long as it is done intelligently where your race is only one of many factors. And if you must use profiling, until you figure out the person is guilty, how about treating that person with respect as you have absolutely no cause to detain that person.The lady was not merely profiled, she had to endure 3 or 4 hours of PUNISHMENT when she had to strip for an officer and pee in a metal toilet and being videotaped , was cuffed uncomfortably and taken by FORCE, treated with indifference.

    I want to know which idiot complained. It must be the idiot flight attendant. I can’t imagine a passenger complaint getting escalated so fast.

  2. Can someone with legal expertise comment here, for the benefit of everyone reading, as to what our rights are in such a situation? Do we have any rights at all, or does the Patriot Act trample everything?

    • I don’t have legal expertise in this area, but the ACLU’s Know Your Rights guide (especially p.18-24 re: airports, airlines) suggests a few resources (I’ve copied them below) and answers questions like “What if I am selected for a strip search?,” “If I am on an airplane, can an airline employee interrogate me or ask me to get off the plane?,” and what information to record during and after an incident.

      DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/structure/crcl.shtm Investigates abuses of civil rights, civil liberties, and profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion by employees and officials of the Department of Homeland Security. You can submit your complaint via email to civil.liberties@dhs.gov.

      U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/problems.htm Handles complaints against the airline for mistreatment by air carrier personnel (check-in, gate staff, plane staff, pilot), including discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, or disability. You can submit a complaint via email to airconsumer@ost.dot.gov—see the webpage for what information to include.

      U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division Resource Page http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/DiscrimComplaintsContacts.htm Provides information about how and where to file complaints about discriminatory treatment by air carrier personnel, federal security screeners (e.g., personnel screening and searching passengers and carry-on baggage at airport security checkpoints), airport personnel (e.g., airport police), FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, and National Guard.

  3. well, if you feel like you’ve been wronged, remember that the internet exists. the only obvious profiling i’ve experienced FYi was in germany. basically ANY colored male (asian, black, brown) was stopped before they got on the plane.

    • my friend, i was stopped in ’02 in some po-dunk town in arkansas. my car broke down while i was on the i-40, i believe. so i stayed at a hotel, and i went for a walk. i saw a bbq restaurant which i peered into. next thing you know, 2 policemen are there asking to speak with me. hicks.

  4. Man, I tell you, not only have I been profiled while brown, I have been profiled while BLACK!! Since I buzz my head, I get mistaken for black by cops. My buddy and I were looking for a place to eat in ATLANTA. So we were driving through some strip mall parking lots and a couple of places were closed earlier than we thought. The next thing I know, some cop cars stop me. Now, while the profiling part was annoying, what infuriated me was the treatment. At this point, all they know is I did not commit crime as they have been observing me. So while I can excuse the overcaution, I cannot excuse the extremely rude way my friend and I were treated. If you are going to profile, what is the need to treat us like we are already guilty? You already have us under control, so be nice to use until you can determine if we are really culprits or not.

    This is why I am outraged by the airline incident. This lady and the two Indian guys have been punished. It’s not like the cops just took them aside for a minute and no harm was done. Those few hours of substandard treatment is punishment that they cannot take back. Here is a solution. We will let the whites pay a paranoia tax and the government compensates profle victims for the time and inconvenience endured. So you make me crap on a steel toilet on videotape, give me 500 bucks. Give me 100 bucks for each hour wasted. Give me 1000 bucks for stripping for the guard. Let us quantify the paranoia and see if the people who advocate super safety are willing to pay the price of that safety.

  5. Really, really dumb and shallow behaviour. By now( this is 2011 for crying out loud) Americans should have enough familiarity with Indians to be able to say “That brown complexioned person over there could originally be from India, the world’s most populous democracy, and a country that is frequently targeted by Islamic terrorists”.

  6. In a way, it shows what a veneer all this supposed enlightenment and reason in the US and other Western countries really is. People are going by their animal instincts, fears and anxieties. Reason, renaissance, rationality seem to count for very little. In Europe, the mask comes off at the slightest sign of trouble. While in the US, one incident, albeit very major, causes a kind of psychosis.

  7. Who are these “brown” people you are referring too? It takes a certain lack of intellectual insight to reduce yourself to a made-up chromatic identity.

  8. This sort of paranoia about suspicious activity is now being led by the White House. The current administration just launched a website recently http://www.attackwatch.com to enable folks to report any suspicious activity or attacks against the president.

  9. Americans should have enough familiarity with Indians to be able to say “That brown complexioned person over there could originally be from India, the world’s most populous democracy, and a country that is frequently targeted by Islamic terrorists”.

    So you’re reasoning here is that Indians can’t be terrorists? Sorry, but when your nation has the 2nd largest Muslim population in the world, that is the biggest reason why you’re frequently targeted by Islamic terrorists – because they live in your country. I’m against racial profiling for a variety of reasons, but saying “Oh the brown person could be Indian!” like that exempts him/her from terrorism is plain dumb.

  10. “So you’re reasoning here is that Indians can’t be terrorists? Sorry, but when your nation has the 2nd largest Muslim population in the world, that is the biggest reason why you’re frequently targeted by Islamic terrorists – because they live in your country. I’m against racial profiling for a variety of reasons, but saying “Oh the brown person could be Indian!” like that exempts him/her from terrorism is plain dumb.”

    You are too clever by half. By your reasoning then, everyone should be a suspect, because not all Moslems are dark complexioned( or did you not know that), nor for that matter are all Indians. Better come up with a much smarter comment. You’re confirming the stereotype of a large number of Americans being dumb, ignorant and presumptuous.

  11. By your reasoning then, everyone should be a suspect, because not all Moslems are dark complexioned( or did you not know that), nor for that matter are all Indians. Better come up with a much smarter comment.

    If that’s genuinely how you interpreted my comment, then clearly it’s not me who needs to come up with smarter retorts – your reasoning here makes no sense whatsoever, nor did your previous comment arrogantly suggesting Indians are exempt from terrorism. Nice job immediately jumping to skin complexion though – we know how Indians are obsessed with that ;)

    You’re confirming the stereotype of a large number of Americans being dumb, ignorant and presumptuous.

    Oh I’m not U.S American by nationality; funny how you called me presumptuous when clearly it’s the other way around Mr. Shekhar. But good job confirming the stereotype of Indians being arrogant, pompous, and rude! :)

  12. “comment arrogantly suggesting Indians are exempt from terrorism. Nice job immediately jumping to skin complexion though”

    But the subject here is indeed about how brown complexioned people have been scrutinized more, specifically with respect to air travel. Can you imagine the irony and the idiocy of a situation where an Indian travelling in the US, who has been injured in a terrorist attack in India, with a name like Kapil Shastri, being watched by security officials and ignorant American civilians? While a light complexioned Turk or Albanian Moslem escapes such scrutiny? Or forget about Turks and Albanians for now. What about an Indian who looks like Hritik Roshan, Anil Kapoor or Aishwariya Rai? Are they going to be looked at, or will such looks be reserved for darker complexioned Indians? Fact is, simpleton Americans are just doing the crudest and most vulgar thing- racial profiling.

  13. I remember flying after 9-11 with my father. I remembered someone, fairly young, walking past us, looking me in the eye and just taking me in. Another, similar situation arose where a child asked his mother as they were walking by if they would have to fly with us on board. The child’s mother replied, unfortunately yes. – Pankaj

  14. “I remember flying after 9-11 with my father. I remembered someone, fairly young, walking past us, looking me in the eye and just taking me in. Another, similar situation arose where a child asked his mother as they were walking by if they would have to fly with us on board. The child’s mother replied, unfortunately yes. – Pankaj”

    It’s that dumbness and parochialism with respect to the rest of the world. Let me guess- you don’t look like Hritik Roshan, nor are you upper class Egyptian, who could easily pass for Portuguese, French or Spanish. The Americans in question are looking at one thing and one thing alone- your brown complexion. People are going by their crudest animal instincts. All their education and values go out the window, and the animal comes out.

  15. From another forum, the difference in how the US and India perceive terrorism:

    “The word terrorism is used by the world power for disfranchisement of others from their own lands.

    For Hindus, it is used for disfranchisement of Hindus on lands where Hinduism originated, by the same people.”

  16. my family and I have been having this experience for some years now. people are just reporting activity just to stir things up. we live down south and it is hideous how people are behaving these days.