"Half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife" terrorized on 9/11 for Flying While Dark-Skinned

Shoshana Hebshi, who describes herself as a "half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife," was aggressively cuffed and detained from Frontier Airlines Flight 623, then strip-searched, for the apparent crime of being ambiguously "ethnic"—and being seated next to two Indian guys she didn't know who got up to use the toilet.

On Sunday, 9/11/2011, Hebshi was held and questioned in a Detroit cell for several hours. A fellow passenger on her flight had told a flight attendant that she and her dark-skinned seatmates (all of whom were strangers to one another) were "suspicious." One can only presume they were racially profiled.

What makes Hebshi's tale even more bizarre: she tweeted the ordeal as it unfolded, at first not realizing that she was the suspicious person the "[c]ops in uniform and plainclothes" were after. Snip from her account:

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.

You really need to read her entire account from start to finish: Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit.

One word of advice for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation: know your rights. Don't open your mouth until you have access to an attorney.

Shoshana Hebshi is a graduate student in journalism at Iowa State University. Photo above by Stan Brewer, courtesy of Ms. Hebshi.

Related items at Associated Press, Detroit News and Gawker. At the time, according to this LA Times item, ABC News reported that the two Indian men had been "making out" inside the restroom. Nice factchecking, guys.

For those of you reading her story who are as disgusted and outraged as I am right now: what are we going to do about it?

(via @declanm; image of Frontier Airlines plane at New York's La Guardia airport in 2009 courtesy Reuters)


  1. What’s the point of democracy if there isn’t a party to vote for that supports basic human rights? The ways in which the public can complain about this kind of profiling are so limited as to be worthless.

    I am utterly jaded.

    1. There is a party you can vote for that protects not just basic human rights but all rights guaranteed by the constitution that both Democrats and Republicans like to slowly take away: The Libertarian Party

    1. Being a paranoid twit who reports things shouldn’t matter in our society. It’s the response of the government that’s in question, if anything. That a citizen flying a plane on 9/11 was paranoid and used a possibly bigoted profiling to report what turned out to be nothing is not the issue.

      1. Being a paranoid twit who reports things shouldn’t matter in our society. It’s the response of the government that’s in question, if anything. That a citizen flying a plane on 9/11 was paranoid and used a possibly bigoted profiling to report what turned out to be nothing is not the issue.

        The paranoia of the general public is certainly part of the issue. The other part is that no public official wants to be the one about which it was said, “Another terrorist attack happened on my watch.”My memory is somewhat sketchy about the exact details, but once, in my town, someone was injured by some explosive concealed in a tennis ball. Suddenly, everybody was reporting suspicious-looking tennis balls in every public park. The police would dutifully go out and investigate each one, post haste, to find out that no, that tennis ball you thought had tape on it and a wire coming out of it was not, in fact, a tennis ball bomb. The calls finally petered out with no other explosive tennis ball findings.Our national response to 9-1-1 is sort of like that tennis ball bomb scare, but on a much larger scale. A paranoid (and bigoted) public majority initiates and approves of the government’s response to their paranoia. And certain members of the government and society have realized that a high level of public paranoia works to their advantage, in terms of their wealth and power.

  2. I’m going to start reporting conservative white males as being suspicious to the TSA whenever I have the chance. Also babies because mainly, I don’t want to fly with babies.

  3. Ooh grr this makes me mad.  +1 to the first poster, who wants a civil liberties party to vote for.  The Dems seemed to stand for civil liberties during the Bush administration, but that all evaporated.  I know why — it’s a systemic issue — but it’s still frustrating and makes one cynical.

  4. This was actually a joke in the last Harold and Kumar movie, I’m pretty sure. 
    Harold and Kumar is now an accurate barometer of the conditions of minorities in this country. Just think about that for a minute.

  5. I look like I could be her sister, and I was born in D.C. and am neither Jewish, nor Arabic. I kinda wish it had been me instead of her.  Seriously, how dare she be brown in America.

  6. A twitter retweet I saw earlier in the day seems fitting…@kmactane Kagan MacTaneFor 9/11 this year, instead of a retrospective or a memorial, can I just have my civil liberties back?

  7. At the very minimum, the suspicious person who reports activity needs to be taken to the station too. People get away with this because they get to do it anonymously and it doesn’t keep them away from their homes or family. 

    1. exactly. when there’s no repercussions for false accusations, then what’s to stop things like this from happening again and again

  8. New political parties.  I voted for Obama because I wanted this business to end.  But here we are.

    Let’s stop putting Republicans and Democrats into office and over again expecting something to change.

    Also, single term limits.

    1. I don’t know about SINGLE term limits but I absolutely think Congressional term limits are a really good idea. Rooting out fuckers like McConnell, Boehner and that snake-in-the-grass Ben Nelson can only be good. 
      On the other hand, it would be a shame to lose Barney Frank and Dick Lugar (among the least repellent of Republicans).On the gripping hand, Jim DeMint also thinks term limits are a good idea and EVERYTHING that man thinks is wrong, so I must be missing something.

    2. There simply is NO legislative answer, as the people in power are NOT going to give up that power peacefully. Any redress would require our election laws to be amended to provide government funding of ALL elections, insuring that anyone could afford to run for office. Only when we stop allowing our candidates to be bribed by special interests and large corporations, can we hope to reverse the downward spiral of the USA. Sitting politicians are not going to allow this. Our only true hope is in treating Congress and the President the exact same way we treated King George and the Parliament in 1775.

  9. This kind of incident makes me feel saddened and angry. But certainly not surprised any more. I just contacted my representatives, but (having interned in various congressional offices) I know these kinds of messages aren’t exactly a high priority.

    Obama clearly hasn’t made significant moves to fix things here. But I’m not sure what the better option is. There is enormous capacity to change within the American political system–look what happened post WWII–but when a party has a vested interest in obstructionism, and money rules the day … I despair for things turning around, sometimes.

  10. I thought all the molestation and fancy scanners were there to prevent a terrorist from ever getting ON a plane with explosives or a weapon. It’s why a gajillion dollars are wasted every year from 1/2 empty water bottles that they won’t allow into the secure area. Figures it took place in Detroit. Gawd what a fucking shit hole. At least the FBI seemed professional in this case.

    It looks like she was the victim of skittish sheep. Here in KC they shut down a WHOLE FUCKING TERMINAL because some jackass wouldn’t cooperate when they saw something funky in his carry on. Brought out the bomb squad and blew it up with water.

    What a fucking Farce.

    1. Of course it was Detroit, because it’s a city with lots of Arabs.  They get this kind of abuse a lot.

      And her article didn’t sound like they read her her Miranda warnings, though reading the article the first time made me angry enough I’m not going to read it again for details.  Time to go rejoin the ACLU.

      1. That whole area has a lot of them. One would think you would be desensitized and less jumpy about it since they are everywhere. One is less likely notice or imagine nefarious intentions when you ride the bus or otherwise interact with them every day.

        I’ve been to Minneapolis a few times and it is very apparent there is a large arab and Muslim population. IIRC, there are a lot of 1 generation Africans as well, from Somalia and the like.

    2. Funny, with your attacks on Detroit I thought you were going to say you were from someplace a lot better/interesting than KC……

  11. How could the terrorists have done any better? They hit us once ten years ago and we’re still TERRIFIED. They’ve degraded life in the United States to this standard, and what a good job they did. We play right into it, too, as evidenced by this story here.

    1. You know – I think I figured it out. *WE* aren’t terrified. Not most of us. In this case you had some overly nervous person making a bad call. But those people are the minority.

      You know who is terrified? Who have genuine fear? Politicians. If some shit goes down on their watch – yoink – they get voted out. They have to continue with this security theater so that they can go, “See – see – we have people keeping us safe.” if something were to happen. Then they can blame it on just some wily terrorist that no one could have predicted or stopped.

      1. Yeah, I’m so “terrified”, I want ALL airline security removed except maybe for an non-intrusive explosive checker and a metal detector that we can just walk through.

        Kinda like it was up until 9/11.

        We let ONE terrorist incident 10 years ago fundamentally change our society.

        Fucking unbelievable.

  12. I feel very bad about this lady’s experience.  But you know what — she seems very unaware of her rights, never seemed to ask under what law she was being held and submitted to a strip search, never asked for a lawyer, never asked if she was under arrest…  Granted, the PATRIOT Act probably makes all of this “legal” (in an extra-legal kind of way, heh) but still — if this had been me, I definitely would have been pressing them to tell me exactly what law they were acting under.  As far as I’m aware, you need to be placed under arrest for this kind of stuff to be done, and it does NOT sound like she was ever arrested.  It’s very easy for authorities to get away with this stuff, when citizens don’t even BEGIN to assert their rights, even in a basic, non-confrontational kind of way.

    1. That’s the problem.  Our “rights” – such as they are – can be stripped at the drop of a hat.  Anyone, anywhere, any time can be taken away.  Forever if necessary.  It’s already happened and it will happen again.

    2. Like it would have done her a bit of good to ask the cops anything. They would have tased her or kicked her teeth in for disrespecting their authority.

    3. Oh, you would have? She was probably terrified being alone.  She did the right thing to get through it.  She shouldn’t have had to but unless you look a certain way, and if you have common sense, its best to keep it zipped..

    4. 1) Although the lady in question was an American citizen, if you are not (like I am not) then any rights you may or may not have are effectively treated as irrelevant.
      2) Although it’s very nice to say on the Internet “why didn’t stand up for her rights?!” in an outraged manner, it’s another thing to try to stand up for those rights when you are actually in that situation. The best you can hope for, at least, is to act polite and maybe these people will let you go quickly.

    5. No you wouldn’t have, for fear of being put through WORSE.  She wanted to get home, and it’s made very clear in these situations that if you don’t cooperate exactly and immediately, there will be consequences (none of which involve getting home to your family more quickly).  As for asserting your rights in a non-confrontational way, forget it.  You gave up your rights when the country reelected Bush and congress rubber-stamped the Patriot act, the short-hand version of which reads “those claiming to be protecting the country from bad guys are PATRIOTS and can do whatever they like and anyone who challenges them is NOT A PATRIOT and can be detained at will.”

  13. I for one am going to make sure I report all suspected religious zealots to the authorities.

    Starting with anyone with a a cross or bible verse as jewelry, clothing, or tattoo.

    Anyone carrying a bible on an airplane is obviously a terrorist and should be sent to Guantanamo without delay for silly things like rights or a judicial system.

    1. I’m all for that! Of course, I have brown eyes and auburn hair, but I’ll totally be wearing it in spirit. As you guys get carted off.

    2. Perhaps you missed this one:
      Subject: I was ejected from an airplane today for wearing a “Suspected Terrorist” button.

  14. Do police have to respond to every report of suspicion nowadays, no matter how baseless? If someone says “I saw a dark-skinned person drop a plastic bag with something in it into a garbage can and I’m afraid it might have been a bomb”, would they call in the bomb squad? Caution is one thing but you think they’d at least ask some cursory questions of the person reporting a suspicion and use their own judgment about whether there’s a real risk…

  15. Uh, somebody talking out their ass said there would be an attack on 9/11, so it must be true, duh! That is messed up! Also, unless I’m mistaken, the three “terrorist” were assigned the seats by the airline, so wouldn’t it be strange for the airline to have all three placed together so they can blab their plans right in earshot of our “hero”? 

  16. Liberty is dead. We parade her corpse around on special occasions and dedicate each defilement to  her.

    God, I hate the last ten years. I want a do-over. The worst thing is that all of this- the overreaction, becoming the exact monster we used to fear and that our enemies always saw us as- is the kind of brutal, black irony of the Outer Limits at its darkest. And we’re living it.

    1. “God, I hate the last ten years. I want a do-over.” You’d love today’s feature article on The Onion:U.S. Commemorates 9/11 By Toasting Stable Afghan Government From Top Of Freedom Tower

      Following the last of many toasts, attendees gathered in the Freedom Tower’s Dick Cheney Memorial Auditorium to watch journalist Daniel Pearl’s special retrospective on the successful 2002 prosecution of all known terror suspects through fair and legal trials. Former president Bush concluded the ceremony with a few short words.”To think, what could have been merely a grim, pathetic reminder of our own pain and subsequent failure has instead been reclaimed by this great nation as a reminder of our success, our resiliency, and our core American values of decency and love,” said Bush, who departed later that night for a climate change conference in China. “Thank God we had the courage, intelligence, and foresight to react the way we did after the worst day in American history.””And thank God we didn’t make a huge mistake by needlessly invading a country like Iraq,” Bush added. “If we had, I guarantee you none of us would be standing here today.”

    2. as someone who went from a teenager to an adult in the last ten years, it makes me sad that i don’t think this is out of the ordinary

      1. I’m not sure anyone does, anymore. I was 17 ten years ago. I  remember when the future was something better. And when racial profiling was considered a bad thing.

        When I was a kid, there were a number of things I was always told happened only in tragically oppressed countries, and by which the United States of America’s status of a beacon of the free world was confirmed because we were staunchly against those things. Torture. Detention without charges (or cause).  Executions without judge, jury, and trial. The security state. Secrecy. On and on the list goes, and it’s so damn depressing because we’ve given up on all of them.

        And what I’ve never been able to make sense of is the fact that the charge to strip us of all those things we used to consider good is championed most by none other than the generations who really remember the cold war, the generations who remember Nixon, the generations that taught me that it was important that America was different.

        1. This reminds me of James Blish’s “Cities in Flight” series – the Cold War was deemed to have been won by the soviets, after the US transformed itself into a copy of the USSR.

  17. OK, where’s the inevitable douchecanoe who shows up in one of these threads and proudly announces that there’s no way this person didn’t somehow do something to cast suspicion on herself? I’m rather astonished to see that comment isn’t here yet, although I do note that we have already been visited by the “She should have reacted more like an ideal civil libertarian when the goons showed up” post.

    1. Of course she cast suspicion on herself – she flew coach! I seriously dare anyone to show me a case where someone was dragged out of first class on this kind of paranoid whim.

  18. Just tonight in L.A., my African American son went through that coming
    back from an international flight.  He wasn’t handcuffed but he was
    detained for 2 hours because he couldn’t afford all the flights he had
    taken–three of which had been to Nigeria on his life guard salary.  He
    told them some of those were work jobs (He’s a stage manager). The
    guards who accused him of sneaking into the country, rifled every thing
    he owned while speaking in Spanish to each other discussing whether or
    not he was American…even though his passport was valid. Only when he
    presented the card of his brother who works for the State department did
    they let him go. What did Don King say?  “Only in America?” We are all
    heated by this. We all feel this woman’s pain.

  19. Moo. Moooooo! Oh brother, the cows are upset about something. What could it be? Not enough air conditioning on the truck to the butcher? Welcome to the gigantic feedlot called the U.S.A.! You have the right to be ground into sausage and have your hide made into a cheap rug to be sold on some street corner to another cow, while your superiors (read “rich people”) chew the fat. Have a nice day.

    God I’m so depressed.

  20. I’ll tell y’all what I’ve been telling lefty blogs since Florida in 2000. Nothing is going start getting better until you are make the Republicans cry about lost profits to the WSJ and Fortune. The main ways to do that boycotts and strikes.

  21. I’ve think I read in some story book, that in some other make believe country they started reporting everyone who appears to be from the upper classes as suspicious. Totally messed up the air travel way worse, the backlash was huge. That really took its toll on the airlines pockets and in turn got laws changed. I wouldn’t recommend it here though. You could get secretly renditioned if your poor enough. Don’t we want to see this informant arrested and tried for maliciously wasting the resources of the TSA to fight his private racist war? It must be illegal to false report.

  22. We’re not going to do anything about it. What can we do? We have no power as a people, voting is meaningless and the people in power will say anything they know we want to hear to be elected. Really, what I’m going to do is, regardless of how this will actually affect my life, hope that this sad, failure of a country falls on its face. That’s what I’m going to do, hope for a better tomorrow when the United Failure of America is forced to reboot due to its own self-inflicted pathetic paranoia.

  23. For those of you reading her story who are as disgusted and outraged as I am right now: what are we going to do about it?
    That’s a simple question with a complex answer. If you want to feel good about yourself, than the answer is to write your congressman and hope it doesn’t happen to you.

    If you actually want to change things, then it’s not enough to respond to this incident. You need to respond to a bunch of other stuff at the same time. Banking crooks who get bonuses instead of jail, political crooks who go to war without congressional approval- you get my drift. It’s well and good to get self-righteously angry at one particular incident. You want to get at the root of the problem, it’s going to take a larger agenda.

     I think it begins with a new political party, one that could work with the democrats when necessary, but one that can function without the huge wads of money that keep the two party system in place. Anything less than that, and you’re merely complaining to management.

     Who remembers the anthrax letters sent to congress? Remember how it used to be, a hand written letter was the most effective way to say something to congress?

     I don’t think a new political party – by itself –  is going to be enough. but I don’t see any functional solution without one.

    1. A new political party is a great idea. It’s too bad that you need billions of dollars in corporate money to even hope to compete with the plutocrats currently in office. We live in a gross world, don’t we?

    2. I’m all for a new political party. I’ll be the first in line. But even in bleeding liberal-as-all-heckfire San Francisco… I don’t see any alternatives worth a second glance.

  24. I want to do something about it but I’m having a hard time standing up straight… having been bent over with my hands holding my ankles since 9-11 has become rather habitual you see.

  25. This kind of profiling was happening way before 9/11/01. I worked out of Philadelphia in the early 90’s for an environmental group canvasing neighborhoods. One of my coworkers was African-american, and in the wealthy white neighborhoods someone would always call the cops to report a black man in their neighborhood. Many days ended early because the cops detained him, and told us to leave. I think planes and airports are just another “white neighborhood” in the minds of many.

  26. Easy solutions:

    1) Don’t pee.
    2) Don’t fly.
    3) Avoid USA.

    I’m not up to #1 but I handle #2 quite well and I try #3 as much as possible.

  27. What you folks need is not so much a new party, as some proper democracy. If you had a decent proportional representation system, like preferential voting then small parties would get a look-in, instead of being spoilers. It tickles my sense of irony that the USA sees itself as bringing democracy to the world, when it has such an abysmally undemocratic voting system itself.

  28. That’s what you get for exporting all that democracy to other countries. You have precious little of the stuff left at home.

  29. Between this and the incredibly embarrassing “victory mosque” bullshit fiasco (a.k.a. islamic cultural center further away from ground zero than a fucking strip club) – It’s official, the terrorists won.

    Thanks a bunch, scared chickenshits who would rather die curled in a shaky fetal ball in the corner than stand as proud Americans who could have (but haven’t) shown the world we will not bend to the will of the terrorists.  We bended alright… bended into a tight, little shivering ball of hate and cowardice.  Pitiful… pitiful… pitiful…

    I listened to Sean Hannity on the radio just before the 9/11 anniversary and the fear mongering was set to 11.  I wondered what sort of state that would put the dumbshits who listen to him in… now I know. I wouldn’t doubt for a second it was a rightwing radio listener that flapped those chicken wings on that flight.  Sad.  This is what America has come to.  The home of the brave?  Nope.  Strike that.

  30. Is it too much to hope that one of those people reporting “suspicious activity” last weekend might actually read this?

  31. Well it sounds like the cops where being overly heavy handed, but what if the cops had ignored the report and the trio really where terrorists ?
    I think part of the problem is in the training, cops go in screaming at people causing unnecessary stress and panic that doesn’t help the situation at all. When confronted with a report you should remove the persons of interest from the plane in a calm but firm manner and hold them for questioning. Then you can start checking their story, doing interviews etc. Practically the last thing you want to do is a strip search as that will be utterly counter productive.
    Then when it turns out that the person of interest is not then you are oblige to do everything in your power to get them on their way, Starting with a sincere apology and then paying for a new ticket and even a hotel if they have to get a plane the next day.

  32. The plane had just landed when all this went down.  What kind of terrorist jumps into action AFTER the plane lands?  Some simple common sense should have led the police to be, at the very least, less heavy handed.

    Second, if the goal is to make me feel safer, it’s not working.  I feel less safe after hearing about stuff like this.  And it’s not the terrorists I’m worried about.

    Third, I really appriciate that Hebshi shared all of this.  Racism needs to be brought out into the daylight and shamed.  She’s done all of us a favor by letting us know what’s going on.

  33. Don’t make the mistake of attributing this kind of behavior to one political mindset. This is not a conservative v liberal battle.   There are some very conservative blogs out there echoing the same things I see here.  Public opinion is moving in the same direction on these kinds of things, across the entire political spectrum.  Look up arfcom, for example.

  34. Makes me wonder if there is a software problem at play here. If I go to a cinema alone I get allocated a seat in a row with other single guys. People with fewer local ties are more likely to travel alone which may be why you get clumps of “Indian looking people” in some parts of the plane.

    1. Did I hear that right? You’re suggesting the seat-assignment software be reworked so that no one dark-skinned happens to be seated next to someone else dark-skinned? 

      1. Did I hear that right? You’re suggesting the seat-assignment software be reworked so that no one dark-skinned happens to be seated next to someone else dark-skinned?

        It might be in the interest of the airline to use seat allocation software which distributes lone travelers through the aircraft rather than putting them beside each other. A better idea would be to hold people responsible for stupid complaints.

  35. I got the public interrogation treatment in 2000 at Stockholm when checking in to an American Airlines flight to the US, transiting via Chicago to Dallas. Felt like I was a criminal for being brown skinned. Same thing happened in 2002 to my wife when she came to join me on a work assignment there. Decided “Never again”. Haven’t gone back to the US and don’t intend to until something changes (which I doubt will ever happen).

  36. Well it was the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and there was a heightened alert with credible threats. Sure it could have been handled better but I prefer overvigilance on such a day.

    1. well it was the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and there was a heightened alert with credible threats. sure it could have been handled better, but i prefer dark-skinned people stay away from me and each other, because that’s vigilance.

    2. Dunno if Jim Smith is your real name or what, but if it’s close to Jim Smith I’m going to hazard a guess that you’re never going to be the victim of said “overvigilance”.

    3. “but I prefer overvigilance on such a day.”

      So why not just strip search everyone to be on the safe side?

      1. Why not just ground all flights, just to be really safe?  

        And strip search everyone.  

        No I mean everyone. Happy Freedom Day!

      2. Yes…someone did a skit proposing just that…all air travel should be nude.  But of course airlines are already going bankrupt as it is!

    4. Sure it could have been handled better but I prefer overvigilance on such a day.
      Then you’re a fool and the world laughs at you. I’m sure if you were on the receiving end of that overvigilance you would sing to a different tune.

      Doesn’t everyone remember that shortly after they popped that asshole OBL the US Government stated that Al Qaeda were planning attacks to mark 9/11? They even included the fact that AQ were potentially targeting rail networks. Then everyone acts surprised when they announce it *again*, shortly before 9/11 (this time without mention of the rail networks bit). Has the 24hr news cycle now made 24hrs the total lifespan of people’s memory?

    5. “there was heightened alert with credible threats”No there wasn’t.Don’t believe everything a newsperson or gvt official tells you.What was that Goering quote about telling people they are being attacked?

      1. “Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither
        in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.
        But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy
        and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is
        a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist
        dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the
        bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism
        and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Hermann Goering, Nuremberg Trials

  37. I think what happened here was a case of “three ‘arabs’ get on a plane with individual tickets and then they ‘just happen’ to be seated next to each other”.  If an ignorant, fear-minded racist sees that in today’s climate, they’re going to make a call every time.  After all, they’re encouraged to report ‘suspicious activity’ right?  

    What I find more bothersome is the response from the authorities.  The notion that ‘all threats must be taken seriously’ is what leads things to be blown out of proportion.  Remember Boston’s circuit board bomb scare anyone?  How about the Toy Pony bomb scare?  I’m not so sure that this is a racism problem at all.  It’s the ridiculously heavy handed approach whenever there’s the slightest sniff of trouble, even when it’s *pure imagination*.

    America needs to calm the fuck down, starting at the highest levels of authority because they control the environment that allows these things to happen in the first place.

  38. For those of you reading her story who are as disgusted and outraged as I am right now: what are we going to do about it?

    Avoid your corner of the world like the plague? Or continue to laugh at the volume of money your leaders flush down the toilet on theatre. I’m not sure which is better.

    Oh, wait.. what am I talking about? I’m white and from a western country. I only have to be fondled to gain access instead of being fondled, profiled, given shifty looks from rednecks who have probably never set foot out of the USA, treated like a criminal, questioned for hours and then let go with the most lackluster of apologies (not to mention rumours flying thanks to shit news organisations who are incapable of doing their job).

    The FBI would like to thank the public and the airlines for remaining vigilant at all times.

    Yeah thanks a lot public, for vigilantly reporting (based solely on your ignorance) and fucking up 3 innocent people’s day. Enjoy your land of the free™.

    1. I think it’s more the idea of America that was nice while it lasted. Freedom, hope, etc.

      Some still believe, despite everything. These people continue to spread pain in the world.

      The first step in recovery is acknowledgement.

  39. Can someone please put together one of those portable guides like they did in the UK for photographers being harassed by cops abusing their powers, but with a point by point list of rights for travelers?  How to respond to being groped by TSA, how to defend against unlawful questioning, arrest, seizure of equipment, and general prejudicial treatment by authorities and airline staff.  Please? 

  40. if you people would care to look into the whole story, you would also know that she was simply a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. the two indian men next to her were thought to be suspicious because they each made several trips to the airplane restroom throughout the flight. ON 9/11! one can hardly avoid at least a tiny bit of profiling against a two darker colored men, and a middle-eastern woman in said circumstances. however, i think it would also have been better if the police officers had gotten a little bit more information about the situation, for example, the fact that the woman was reported to be sleeping for most of the flight.

  41. Do you people think that terrorists are out there planning anniversary attacks or something? Wouldn’t that, like, be kind of predictable? 

  42. Meanwhile, a big story on the news this morning was that Steve-O said something offensive at the roast of Charlie Sheen. God bless America.

  43. Them: “We apologize for what happened and thank you for understanding and cooperating.”
    Me: “It’s no problem, really.  How about I just cuff you three, I strip-search her, you two spend the next five hours in a cell after drinking a gallon of water each, then I let you go and we call it even.  Sound good?”

  44. We did a great job preventing terrorism before 9/11.  Just not a perfect job.  It’s impossible to do a perfect job.

    Arresting a physical embodiment of peace between two rival cultures is not a step in the right direction.

  45. For those of you reading her story who are as disgusted and outraged as I am right now: what are we going to do about it?

    As long as people are willing to fly, it’s not going to change in any substantiative way.

  46. I would certainly be pissed if I was in her shoes, no doubt.  But we have to step back at look at the whole thing.  There was a credible threat that day and this happened to two flights.  I agree that it seems awful and over the top, but on the other side, a couple false positives to keep me from being embedded in the side of a burning building is cool with me.  I’m sure the same type of “should I report this or am I being paranoid” thoughts ran through other peoples head when they’ve stopped actual terrorist activity – shoe bomber.  I bet the people on that plane are pretty happy with “over-exaggeration”.  It sucks, but its the time we live in – show me a better solution with the same success rate and I’ll vote for it.

    1. Being dark skinned is not acting suspicious.

      I’d like to know why people who “report” these types of things aren’t ever held accountable?

    2. That you are willing to sacrifice others’ liberty for your own safety is pathetic.  Not quite the heroic willingness to sacrifice their own safety to protect others’ liberty that our armed forces demonstrate every day.  You deserve neither liberty nor safety (to paraphrase someone much smarter and more original than myself).

  47. You just know that every one of those police officers, when they retire, will be called a hero and congratulated for their brave service, even if all they did their in their whole career was bullshit like this.  The person who reported the victims for being brown probably feels pretty good about themselves too.

    It’s so easy to become filled with rage, and for that rage to poison your view of the whole world so that it looks sick and ugly.  But I think, in part, this is a beneficial process.  We need to become cynical about certain things; none of this can ever change as long as simply wearing a uniform, or jumping to obey the state, is all it takes to be seen as a “hero”.

    I think the most constructive way to channel your anger at incidents like this is to let it out in tiny doses every day.  When a co-worker says something uncritically admiring of the state and its security measures, or your stepdad makes a dubious comment about immigrants, pick them up on it– ask them exactly why they, personally, think that, and then pointedly wait for an answer.  That’s where the problem comes from, so that’s where the solution has to start.

  48. It’s all terribly confusing and a shame. But looking at it from the airport officials’ point of view, you have to consider the risks vs the consequences. 

    Someone reports suspicious behaviour on a plane on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th. Do you want to be the official that didn’t take it seriously? 

    It’s the same as when someone makes a joke about having a bomb in their luggage. You can’t ignore it, even if you know it’s probably nothing. 

    The risks of a terrorist attack vs attacking the civil liberties of passengers? A difficult judgement call to make in the moment. She wasn’t treated well. But they apologised, and nobody died. 

  49. If you believe that we are truly living in a world where we have to follow up on every report, here is the correct way that they can do due diligence in a humane way:

    Divert the plane to a remote pad, but follow it with mobile stairs and busses, not just police cars. Get all the passengers off the plane and onto the busses to take them to the terminal, with the exception of the suspects AND the reporting party. Interview the reporting party on the tarmac and perform the gate-side secondary screening procedure on the suspects (wand, swab, non-enhanced patdown). When you realize that the reporting party is just crying wolf, send everyone back to the terminal. You’ve done your due diligence, and no one had to be handcuffed or detained for hours.

    Someone with deep pockets (ACLU, ADC, etc.) really need to sue to have proceedures changed in these sort of situations.

  50. Ephraker, You’ll also notice that she came to that conclusion AFTER making those observations about the people who were mistreating her.  She had every right to be angry and scared and frustrated and to think what she thought about the stereotypes playing out before her.  Did she act on those thoughts?  Did she mistreat them in response?  No.  She got through it and after all that horrifying shit, decided it was better to be a good and tolerant person… and to speak out against injustice so that others can learn from her experience.

    1. I want to know what Ephraker said, before it got Orwelled out. I’m guessing it’s along the lines of what I’m thinking. She has a right to pissed. But why blame on beer-bellied, country music lovin’ rednecks (e.g., “white trash”)? Willie Nelson isn’t in charge of homeland security. Police power has an Ivy League pedigree.

      1. There’s always a class aspect to these issues.  Look how often ‘dumb workers’ are blamed for what’s probably the racism/hysteria of a fellow passenger.  Of course, the day the dumb workers dismiss some passenger’s suspicions as hysteria, and something bad happens then they’ll again be blamed for being ‘dumb hicks’ or “fat” Jada Pinketts…. 

        In truth, the person who brought about these policies went to Yale, and the person who’s happily continued and expanded them went to Harvard.  You can also bet that plenty of happy mutants will vote for him again…..

  51. What a horrible ordeal and what for? For vigilance? Where is the vigilance against wholesale, panic driven bullshit?
    Me, I don’t see it as a sign that the terrorists have won. The race to the bottom is being won.  I personally don’t buy the terrorism fear package and I’m aghast that so many people do.  Terrorism is what western nations are raining from the skies on the poorest-ass countries in the world.  From the reports we receive overseas US citizens have more to fear from overzealous and self righteous law enforcement and TSA agents than they have ever had to face from outside.  Not to mention home grown terrorism.I last visited the US over 8 years ago and it saddens me that I will probably not see that glorious land ever again.  It’s personal choice informed by the continuous cascade of tales of misery and abuse of political power, police power and blind pride in a nation’s wanton exercise of military might against some of the most abused, feeble, long suffering and helpless peoples on our beautiful blue planet. I turned down a trip to the US this year for these reasons. The next time I circle the globe, I am blessed to be of a class privileged enough to have the option to do so, I will travel via Canada, Mexico or South American countries.  I’m confident I won’t be missed and much as I will miss out on a magnificent place inhabited by some great people, I won’t miss further exposure to exactly this kind of horrific shit.  I loathe the very notion of stepping through a full body scanner, having to fear and respect asshole security agents for my own safety.I am deeply scared for your consistent erosion of civil liberties and destruction of hard won access to basic living and working rights. The whole package chills me to my core.
    I’ll continue to take my chances with traffic, bee stings, microbes, choking hazards, dogs, hot weather, tripping over my own shoe laces etc and every other random act more likely to harm me.  
    My heart goes out to Ms Hebshi and everyone else who endures such personal violations for their own safety. 

  52. The TSA is a gigantic waste of taxpayer money.  Shut it down.  Pare down “homeland security” drastically.  Sorry, but we’re not under attack.  It’s a major overreaction, and 10 years later, it just looks silly.

    1. They both do what they’re intended to do – keep the American people scared, obedient, and conditioned to instantly obeying orders. They’re great value for money – America’s masters not only get an effective whip, but the sheep pay for it themselves, and demand more of it.

  53. Knowing the risk of exacerbating the situation, I still remember the old video of the lawyer and the detective telling the law school class to NOT talk to the police. I would probably not talk and not cooperate.
    It is sad that a US citizen would have to go against the authorities to safeguard constitutional rights. It is also sad that many citizens applaud this state of affair and that many public servants participate in them. We have become a nation of patriotic cowards who fear our own shadows.

  54. OK, serious question:  what should she have done?  what should any of us do in that situation?

    !.  Sit in the chair.  Refuse to move unless they carried her?

    2.  Ask if she’s being arrested and only move if they say that she is?

    3.  Not answer any questions?  Just keep asking for an attorny?

    4.  Refuse to be strip searched?

    And it depends on what she wants: to stand up for her rights, or get home as soon as possible…

    1. OK, serious question:  what should she have done?  what should any of us do in that situation?…3.  Not answer any questions?  Just keep asking for an attorny?

      This.  If I were taken off a plane by the police, handcuffed, and carried off to a holding cell with no explanation, I’d assume they planned to file serious (if baseless) charges and act accordingly.  If the police are determined to pursue charges, nothing you can say will get you out of it.  Refuse to answer questions without an attorney.  Inform them that you do not consent to a strip search, and even if you comply, it’s done under duress, and they are not free of criminal or civil culpability.  That brings me to the next point.  Once free, demand police reports.  File complaints.  Purse state and federal criminal charges, even though those are likely hopeless.  Investigate the possibility of civil suits, which at the very least are likely to be more of a pain in the ass for those involved.  TSA, FBI, state and local police, and the flight crews probably all broke laws during this incident, in such a way that they’d theoretically not be immune to prosecution or suit.  One high-profile suit against the individuals who behave this way, and all of them might start reconsidering their behavior.  There must be consequences.

      4.  Refuse to be strip searched?

      If you physically resist, you’ll be charged with assaulting an officer.  You can state that you do not consent, even if you comply.  If they don’t have grounds for the search, they’ll back off.  Worst case, you get searched, which is what happened.

  55. “Someone reports suspicious behaviour on a plane on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th. Do you want to be the official that didn’t take it seriously? ”

    If you’re “taking a threat” seriously, you  should speed up the removal of the passengers from the plane, so that they are not stuck on the plane with a potential bomb. At minimum.

  56. I’ve considered visiting Oceania on several occasions.  when it was pointed out to me that I’d have to be fingerprinted, possibly tazered because I would refuse to open each vial of insulin when requested to do so.  I mean, shit, when you have a country that repeatedly tazes an elderly lady because she won’t take her medicine, I’m surprised you can even say Democracy without vomiting. 

    Best of luck from Airstrip One!!

  57. Oh no… I’m Indian and brown. I also have suspicious facial hair; however my name is George Paul but in retrospect it may not help me anyway. How can I NOT look like a terrorist?!

  58. Ephraker, people think racist things all the time, from silly jokes to base and vile thoughts instilled from an early age by society and authority figures, you’d have to be the freaking  Buddha not to have these reactions sometimes… as ADULTS we are supposed to filter these gut reactions and apply reason before acting on these feelings.  Yes, she had some gut reactions about the idiots violating her basic constitutional rights, she shared those reactions because that’s what she experienced while under extreme duress, no doubt magnified by any experiences she may have had growing up as a person of colour in America, experiences probably contributed by those who weren’t people of colour themselves (read: WHITE or possibly some other ethnicity not hers).  You want to know who DIDN’T apply reason to their gut reactions? The idiot on the plane making wild assumptions about people of colour going to the bathroom more than once, an idiot who ACTED on those feelings and as a result inflicted harm on those he/she didn’t understand (read: a CHILDISH idiot).   I have no problem dismissing her bigotry because it’s human to stereotype, if that’s all she were saying then maybe I can be all tsk tsk about it, but she’s also saying she wants to be better than that, to be more tolerant and understanding in the hopes more people will do the same, to not let the hate she experienced influence her life any more.   And maybe she did stereotype these people as jar headed hicks and rednecks but do point out where she calls them Klan members or something similar  (the post with your quotes of her characterizations seem to have disappeared), because she was basically accused of being  a terrorist.  Her observations were far lighter than the ones made of her.

  59. What are we going to do? Good question. This is an outgrowth of the Terrorist Industrial Complex that came about after September 11th. We have let this particular industry become carried away with itself. So how can we go about holding it accountable? Besides the normal routes of writing our representatives in Congress, I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has any ideas.

  60. They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. – now who was it said that, I am fairly sure he was an American…. all this means is they terrorists have won and validates my decision to stop flying anywhere ever again….

  61. For those of you reading her story who are as disgusted and outraged as I am right now: what are we going to do about it?

    Complain and then buy a ticket and fly as usual. Just like all of you.

  62. I’m with anyone who wants a third party, except that I actually DO vote third party. Everyone who voted for Obama got exactly what they paid for.

    Actually, having read the entire article, I have to say, the authorities seemed to treat her just fine, considering the bullshit they had to, by law, put her through. The real douches in the story are all the paranoid Americans who have had a decade of fear shoved down their throats and perceive everything around them to be a potential threat- they’re the ones who got her in trouble. Given how our narrator COULD have been treated, or how long she COULD have been detained, the experience doesn’t seem that terrible, from a “our government sucks” point of view. And now she’ll be genuinely understanding of all the people in this world who get harassed by cops and authorities all the time, not just for a few hours.

    Still voting third-party, though.

  63. It’s interesting to put this in perspective with Vance Gilbert (black man hassled when reading airplane book). As much as I hate to say it, we need more reactions like that – where the persons in charge stop to think at some point, before things get to strip searches, detainment, and outright interrogation – to realize something’s a non-ado, and react accordingly.

  64. Never EVER talk to police. Confirm your identity, and then say “Officer, until I have an attorney present, I have nothing to say.” to every single question. Continually ask *them* why you are being detained/arrested and what is their reasonable suspicion/probable cause. Tell them you’d like to be on your way. “Why?” “Officer, until I have…” Don’t mess this up. And don’t talk even if you are factually innocent.

    Here’s why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

  65. Two things. First, given that “they looked suspicious” detentions end in nothing, they really should not default to treating the detainees so badly.  They should provide decent facilities, and explain to the detainees exactly what happened immediately – someone on the plane reported them as being suspicious, and they are required to investigate.  Tell them at the beginning what you ended up telling them at the end.  Second, I think there should be a mandatory debriefing of the person who made the report, making sure they know that the person turned out to be completely innocent. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reporting genuinely sketchy behavior, but they need to have some accountability and be told they freaked out over nothing. I read a lot of comments elsewhere that the flight attendants could have decided there was no threat.  I disagree with that – once a report is made, the airline crew should not be making judgments over whether the threat is real. They’re not qualified, and as often as not they seem to be the ones freaked out by brown people.

  66. Here’s what I did about it:

    Dear Senator Schumer,

    As a New Yorker and an American, recent news about the treatment of passengers aboard airplanes who are deemed “suspicious” has me greatly concerned. Recently, aboard a Frontier Airlines flight to Detroit, a woman was labelled as suspicious along with two men who were allegedly strangers to her. According to reports, she was then forcibly removed from the plane by law enforcement, cuffed, and held in a cell or room for hours.

    This is making us less safe!

    Not only does it foster some amount of distrust of law enforcement in some people, but it does something even worse. This is not a civil liberties issue, it is a security issue. We are reminded as conscientious Americans that if we see something, we should say something. So I ask you, Senator Schumer, if you thought such treatment may befall one of your fellow Americans, who turns out to be innocent, just because you thought she looked suspicious, would you say something if you weren’t quite certain? I am a conscientious American, but I am also a decent guy. So I tell you now, that I will never speak up about someone just because I think they look suspicious. I do not want to be responsible for my fellow Americans being treated this way – or even visitors to this fine country. And I won’t do it because of stories like this.

    And for that, we are less safe.

    Yours truly,
    Mike McIntyre

  67. NOT flying is NOT the answer.
    You know, I went vegetarian for 5 years once, because, “one person can make a difference,” and, “every vote counts.”  Statistics show that the rest of the world didn’t give a damn.
    I haven’t flown since last October.  All that’s happened is that I’ve missed out on several family vacations.  
    They don’t care, they don’t have to, they’re the airlines.  

    1. I haven’t flown since last October. All that’s happened is that I’ve missed out on several family vacations.

      So what’s the down side?

  68. I would dive into a rant about racist asshats in power with no regard for civil liberties, but I think everything worth saying has been said enough.

  69. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

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