What is caution?

A couple of weeks ago a 31 year old Muslim woman was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight due to a member of the flight crew “feeling uncomfortable.”   The woman, a graduate student flying to San Jose, wore a headscarf and actually had done nothing.  So what instigated this?  The flight crew member “thought” she overheard the woman say “It’s a go.” on her cell phone when, in fact, she had said “I’ve got to go.”  

Quite a common phrase among people using cellular phones as a flight nears departure. 

The TSA searched her headscarf but quickly realized that this wasn’t a situation warranting further searches and left the rest of her possessions alone.  Despite the TSA’s assessment, the woman was kept from the flight and told that the flight crew wasn’t comfortable with her flying with them. 

Southwest Airlines has apologized several different ways and offered compensation for the experience in the form of a flight voucher but the woman says she doesn’t want to fly Southwest after that experience.  I can’t say that I blame her.

For 10 years now, we have treated a class of people very badly when it comes to flying.  Although you may believe that it’s Muslims that I’m speaking of, I’m not.  That class of people is actually those who look Muslim and/or strange or and/or Middle Eastern / Asian.  That’s a pretty big class of people.

This kind of treatment is a direct result of the Bush Administration’s “one percent doctrine” which is, simply stated, that if there is a 1% chance that something is going on, it will be treated as fact rather than speculation out of an abundance of caution.  It is a political response to a terrorist threat.

I usually avoid being political in this forum because I think it serves little or no good when it comes to a dialog about an industry.  In this case, it’s unavoidable.  It’s not that I’m anti-Bush or anti-Republican.  It’s that I’m anti-stupid when it comes to security.   We have ground our Bill of Rights into dust over the perceived threat of terrorism with respect to political considerations in this country. 

We grossly abuse that class of people I spoke of a few paragraphs earlier out of an abundance of caution and I’ll note that that class probably comprises nearly 2/3’s of all people in the world.  It’s a pretty large class of people even in the United States and includes a significant portion of people who are US citizens.  And by grossly abuse, I mean in a way that 20 years ago would have been soundly reprimanded by popular opinion as well as by courts. 

We grossly abuse our Bill of Rights when it comes to unlawful searches and seizures with our current TSA security checks at airports.   I cannot think of another situation where we demand (not ask) that people give up all rights in order to use what is a major and essential transportation system in this country.  People are afforded no protections from these searches whatsoever and the only response to objections to this treatment is “you don’t have to fly.”  Well, yes, in fact, in many cases you do in this 21st Century economy.

Oddly enough, we don’t even protect people from criminal prosecution(s) resulting from these searches which aren’t a security risk to a flight.  We just pursue the perceived “bad people” in every way possible, legal or not.

Most of you who read this are likely *not* in that class of suspected people.  I’ve seen comments in many forums by people saying things like “it is a small price to pay for feeling safe”.  The abrogation of these rights is centered in public opinion that is, at the minimum, based on political responses to security problems rather than fact.

Most of you likely don’t care because you think you’re largely unaffected by this.  Perhaps but perhaps not.  It’s far too easy to use these tactics against anyone by using that very same argument:  “You want to feel safe, don’t you?”  The problem is, you aren’t safe.  As a matter of fact, you’re far more at risk for wrongful prosecution, harrassment and even 1st, 4th, 5th and 9thAmendment rights violations.  

We are and should be a better country than that.  We should behave better than this.  The most shocking thing of all to me is just how easily everyone folded to this one percent doctrine approach and accepted the implications towards citizens and visitors to this country alike. 

As for the airlines who are responding this way towards customers:  You’re better than this.  You all have started issuing apologies publicly because they cost nothing and appear to be the right thing to do.  Apologies for honest mistakes are right and proper.  Continuing to abuse a class of people and then apologizing for it after the fact is shameful.  If your flight crew is so poor at realistically identifying flight risks, I would suggest that they don’t need to be working for you anymore.  They are unable to perform an essential part of their job.  They are reacting to anything instead of being experienced professionals.  

And anyone who has been involved in real security issues will tell you that people who just react wholesale to anything are actually some of the biggest threats to real security.

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