Friday, January 2, 2009

Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: Flying while Muslim

Nine Muslims got tossed off a plane for making what they claim were innocuous comments about plane safety. Already people are writing on blogs claiming this is racial profiling and that Muslims are suffering the same pain African-Americans have experienced in "Driving while black". In order to assess the level of unfairness being leveled at a particular group of people for no reason other than that they are members of a particular race, religion, or subculture, we need to first define racial profiling.

To be called racial profiling, one must essentially view race as the only profiling issue and the issue of race must be entirely arbitrary to the situation. For example, suppose a bomb blows up at a shopping center in Prince George's County, Maryland. One third of the shoppers are Black, one third are White, and one third are Hispanic. Now, if police review the security tapes and send investigators out to interview only the black shoppers, then we have an issue of racial profiling.

Now, let's go to another mall. This mall is celebrating Black History Day and the location in which it sits is in a predominately black area of town. That day, a bomb goes off in the mall. Security tapes show the mall has entirely black shoppers except for this one squirrelly white guy sneaking around a corner with a shaved head and tattoos down both arms. Now, if you were a police detective, who would you be looking at as the possible bomber? Now you can be as politically correct as you want, but practicality says, check out that white dude. It is not just that he is white that one pays extra attention to him. The police would be unlikely to blink if that one white person were a blonde woman in high heels holding the hand of a mixed race child or a white man with his arm around his black girlfriend. But, a guy in an all-black mall on Black History Day who looks like a white supremacist AND a bomb goes off, makes it impossible not to focus on him as a top suspect. Likewise, if there is only one black guy seen at a KKK rally when a bomb goes off, it would be hard not to check him out.

"Driving while black" often is an excuse for folks acting squirrelly WHILE driving and being black rather than JUST driving and being black. Police must profile in the course of their work; they must make split decisions on who to pull over and check out. They work off a profile of what they experience in their work. Believe me, having done ride alongs with my cop daughter, it isn't just blacks that get profiled. Check out that white guy lurking behind that business in a black area of town. He was not ignored by police; they thought, "What's he up to?" and they checked him out. Sure enough, he was trying to burglarize a black man's business. But, they profiled him not only because he was white in a black area, but because he was lurking in an odd way, and because he was somewhat unkempt in the manner of a drug user looking for some way to support his habit. If you are black. dress like a thug, and jump into a vehicle that matches the style drug users like and you look like a drug dealer AND you act in some squirrelly fashion, you might get pulled over (often after the cop runs your plate and finds out something is suspicious about it).

So, now to flying while Muslim. This group looked VERY Muslim with the men with the long beards and the women with their heads covered. They were in a location where they will stand out to those around them (like the white guy at the black mall or behind the black business). Their behavior was possibly squirrelly. Now I know these Muslim passengers claim they said nothing concerning, just something about the safest place to sit on a plane and something about the engine jets right outside the window. All of this might have just been normal chit-chat. However, we have not yet heard the other side of the story, what the a passenger or two overheard; perhaps what was said was a little more scary that what is claimed.

Regardless, everyone knows clearly by now that one doesn't shout fire in a theatre or anything close to it. A white boy who loves rap and hangs with all blacks may be able to say Nigga when with his friends but he best not say that while he is alone in a black club without them. Even as a white middle-aged female I know enough not to lunge for something under my seat while a police officer is standing outside my vehicle waiting for me to produce my license. I also know that when I travel in predominantly Muslim areas like Kashmir and Egypt that covering my arms and head is both wise and respectful. It makes those around me comfortable (even if I disagree with the philosophy behind it). The United States is a country that is not terribly in sync with Islamic views, especially of women, and certain Muslim attire makes many feel extremely wary.

These were intelligent Muslims. The spokesman for the group is a doctor and his brother is a lawyer. He knows darn well that it is simply not wise to make comments that can be misconstrued as threatening on a plane when dressed in the manner of a particular group of people who have members who like to crash planes and participate in suicide missions.

Yes, this may have been a perfectly nice group of people who made a silly comment. Well, you pay for making silly comments if you know that those silly comments shouldn't be made at that location. You learned a lesson of what not to do in that public venue. Sorry. Your bad.

If it turns out they made no suspicious comments at all, then the onus of what happened falls on the other passengers, but let's see what their side of the story is before we accuse them of being racists as opposed to concerned citizens worried about the safety of themselves and others on the plane. I look forward to more clarity before judging one group or the other.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown


Levi said...

Hi Pat, I agree with you. I do not have a problem with racial profiling personally. I think Muslims should be looked at more closely than say a 90 year old woman. Since most of the terrorist attacks in recent history have been carried out by Muslims.

If there were terrorist attacks in a Muslim country, done by all white men from America, if I was visiting that country, I wouldn't mind being looked at a little more closely than the rest, if I had nothing to hide.

Instead of whining about being racially profiled, I think these Muslims need to brush it off, and maybe they can be a voice for moderate Muslims who come to America with good intentions, who come here for the economic opportunities and freedom.

I've discussed radical Islam, read many books about radical Islam, and just recently blogged about a group of radical Islamists in Florida who supported the terrorist organization HAMAS.
I think moderate muslims need to stand up, and be louder. I think that is more productive than
whining about racial profiling.

Pat Brown said...

People are rather funny. They do not seem to understand we have only three choices

1) Proved absolutely no security and have people complain men with guns and bombs are allowed to just roam around killing us without a care

2. Provide extreme security and have everyone bitch about the extra few minutes it takes to carry it out and, oh, the inconvenience!

3) Provide as much security as is reasonable financially and so that it is not too cumbersome but keep an eye out for any characters that raise a red flag.

We have gone with Number Three in this country. I have been in Kashmir where you got through triple security at the airport and then get met by security people upon landing who want to know exactly where you are going and how. Usually you need to use one of their people to go anywhere. Then, every few blocks there are two army soldiers with machine guns. THIS is security.

So we have taken the middle ground. Security is a bit of a nuisance but no biggie. In return, if you act suspicious you just might have to spend extra time being checked out. Gosh, horrible, isn't it.

We are all responsibile for our behavior especially in times of violence and mayhem. I am sure acting oddly in Mumbai right now might get you hauled off to police detention. Israel is nailing Gaza and there are protesters spewing anger at America. Then, a group of nine Muslims in clearly Muslim attire get on a plane and say something about the plane crashing. Not a good idea....

Preraphazon said...

Shortly after 911, I was flying some. I am mostly white looking though I am a registered Native American. Anyway, I was very paranoid about flying then and took note of everything, and what was inescapable is that I was usually one of the ones singled out for searches --and half the time the searches were conducted by a (no idea if Muslim or not) Middle Eastern person. I found this highly ironic.

We've got to stop hindering our security just because one group or other feels put upon. If someone was describing an area rapist as Native American, I would hope that police looked at every Native American matching the description they came across. Who would object to using the most efficient methods to catch a criminal? I can't imagine anyone having a problem with it except a criminal or someone who is protecting one.

People who believe profiling is racist are themselves racist. Race is but one small facet of the art of profiling, and it was by no means, no way, no how the motivation for why profiling evolved. I am so tired of people using every excuse to thwart justice and skate.

There is still racism directed from different factions to different factions, and it's something just about everyone feels at one time or another -- and also something the some ones who feel it mete out to others. It's usually a two-way street.

Targeting criminals is not racism. It's justice.

Ronni said...

Targeting anyone wearing a head scarf who is wondering where's the best place to sit if the plane goes down is just a tad bit paranoid, in my view.

Why would anyone think that "intelligent Muslims" would, if they were planning to bring down a plane, discuss the topic right there, on board, surrounded by people who could be suspicious of them?

Pat Brown said...

I agree, Ronni, one should not overreact just because a woman is wearing a headscarf and a man a beard. One shouldn't freak out if one get off the bus and an African-American man with baggy jeans steps off as well. Nor should one flip out because one has to walk past a Hispanic man with his hand in his pocket on a dark night or a white man with a shaved head.

However, there are times one MUST be wary of any of the above IF they are coupled with other concerning behaviors. While we want to be careful not to overact, we also want to be careful not to underreact. Many a woman has ended up dead because she ignored a warning bell in her head that could have kept her from becoming a victim of a serial killer. What happened? She didn't want to "judge" the man; she wanted to be nice.

My sons worked out at the same gym as the 9/11 terrorists. It is a very small gym. The men spot for each other. The men never said anything squirrelly, so my sons never were suspicious of them. But, suppose they had made some comments, like, "Yeah, I need to hit this 200 pound lift because I won't have another chance" and "Just wait until 9/11 and see what America thinks then" and "From NYC, I am taking a flight to nowhere".

Should my sons THEN have reported these men to authorities? Or should they have said, "Nah, they are probably talking about something else or I am exaggerating what they are saying." Would you have wanted my sons to have been afraid to appear racist?

Unfortunately for Muslims, Muslims have been heavily involved in terrorism, and worse, suicide terrorism. So, a group of Muslims on a plane, women and children included, can still be a group of terrorists. If all these folks did was make a comment about the safest place to it on the plane, someone overreacted. However, if there were other comments made as well that were concerning, then we cannot blame people for reporting them.

We all have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in public in a manner which is not frightenng to others. My two sons, one black and one mixed race, have never been bothered by the police in their lives. In fact, they have commented that they have been treated exceptionally well by the police in spite of the fact they could have been given a ticket. Likewise, I have alway been treated with respect wherever I have traveled except the one time when I was nineteen when I flaunted the local culture in Morocco by wearing a tight pair of jeans and a tube top. I was called an American whore and almost raped. My bad. I learned my lesson and when I went back to Morocco, I was in a long skirt and a headscarf and was treated like a queen.

Burl Barer said...

I was once arrested for DWBOB -- Driving with a Black on Board. My son is "Black" and I am supposedly "white" (although according to the KKK, I am NOT white). I have been targeted and singled out for full body searches on airplanes because of my unusual name, dark hair, olive skin, etc. I've been kept out of restaurants and social clubs because of my religion, real estate covenants in my home town forbid selling my family a home in certain neighborhoods, and we would have hate mail stuffed in our mailbox. Nothing to make you feel more like an American than finding Swastikas in your mailbox, and getting beat up every Easter by Christians. The majority of terrorist acts in America are committed by Ecoterrorists,not fanatical zealots. If you doubt that, ask the FBI.