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)