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Bigger Threat: Terrorists or Passengers?

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A third incident in as many weeks of out-of-control passengers has resulted in a top British architect being physically assaulted and illegally detained by passengers on an American Airlines flight.
According to a story on The Independent, Seth Stein, a Jewish native of America, aroused the suspicion of his fellow passengers by having a really good tan, using an iPod, and later using the airplanes rest facilities.

Before ever being confronted by any of the planes staff, he was grabbed from behind with his arms pinned to his seat, while another passenger who evidently identified himself as New York police officer Michael Wilk rifled through his coat, seizing his passport and iPod.

Two other passengers were said to have thanked Wilk for taking action, despite the fact that he likely committed a crime by touching and restraining Stein. NYPD records indicated that nobody by the name of Michael Wilk has been with the department for nearly two-and-a-half decades.

The airline apologized for the incident and offered Stein $2,000 for his troubles, but Stein declined, and has reportedly has hired a legal team to pursue his claims against the airline and Wilk.

This continues a disturbing trend of frightened and irrational airline passengers racially profiling other passengers. Just one month ago, passengers on a British flight refused to allow the plane to take off unless a few of their fellow passengers -- two young Asian men -- were removed from the plane.

Their only crime and the only evidence of intent the rebellious passengers had: the two men were speaking in Arabic.

Some of the passengers stormed off the plane, others refused to board at all, while still others demanded the mens forced removal. The two had their passports seized and were later removed from the plane by police.

According to the UK site the Daily Mail, Tory Homeland Security spokesperson Patrick Mercer said "This is a victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally."

In 2002, Doctor Bob Rajcoomar, another American citizen, was detained by a federal air marshal near the end of a flight where another passenger had to be physically restrained and handcuffed to a seat near where Rajcoomar had been sitting. He was later held without charge by local police, simply because the marshal did not "like the way he looked."

Rajcoomar is of Indian descent, and was detained after the flight for four hours, and resulted in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) settled the lawsuit in the summer of 2003, for the first time agreeing to change its policies and training procedures as the result of a suit.

In another incident last month, an Arab human rights activist was not allowed to board an airplane after refusing to remove or hide his tee-shirt, which had "We will not be silent" written on it in both English and Arabic.

Jet Blue acknowledged the incident but refused to comment. It is not clear whether the passenger was confronted by Jet Blue staff, or employees of the TSA. The Constitutions First Amendment prevents any government agency from limiting a persons speech.

The passenger eventually agreed to wear another shirt over his own in order to avoid missing his flight.

This month, according to, Pablo Gutierrez, a Spanish university professor, was forced to leave an airplane when passengers became afraid of his long beard and dark complexion. Gutierrez too was approached by passengers who attempted to search him and his bag.

Gutierrez was escorted off the plane so that he could speak with the pilot in the privacy of the terminal, where the pilot offered to remove the three passengers who accosted him, of alternately to keep his bag inside the cockpit to appease them.

While the latter path was taken and the three men were allowed to remain on the flight, the airline later acknowledged that company policy would have required that the three be thrown off the plane regardless, and they later apologized for the situation.

These incidents will undoubtedly continue, and while few can argue that death by bombing is a worse fate than simple racial profiling or harassment, it is equally debatable as to whether this problem -- should it become systemic -- threatens our safety and our freedom more than actual terrorists do.
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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.