If you are learning Arabic, don’t put your flash cards in your pocket. The TSA will get you.
This is a painful story to post, not least because it means I have to link the ACLU’s official site. But, frankly, in this case at least, they are doing God’s work.
The Transportation Security Administration, which brags about irrelevant activity but hides all its failures, saved an airplane from the “threat” of a man learning Arabic. Here is the potential terrorist’s description of how he was arrested:
At the metal detector at airport security, Transportation Security Administration agents asked me to empty my pockets. I took the set of flashcards from my pocket and handed them to the officers. After I cleared the metal detector, they asked me to step aside for additional screening. One of them started rifling through the cards, and another took the book out of my carry-on. The minutes ticked by, and I got more confused about why I was being detained and more concerned that I would miss my flight. One of them called a supervisor.
After a half-hour delay at the security line, the supervisor showed up, and things turned from annoying to surreal. After looking at the book and flashcards, the supervisor asked me: “Do you know who did 9/11?” Taken totally aback, I answered: “Osama Bin Laden.” Then she asked me if I knew what language Osama Bin Laden spoke. “Arabic,” I replied. “So do you see why these cards are suspicious?” she finished.
Imagine going from being in line at the airport to having a TSA supervisor imply you had some connection with the worst act of terrorism ever committed against your country – all over the course of a few minutes.
She was in mid-sentence talking to me when a Philadelphia police officer appeared behind me and ordered me to put my hands behind my back. He cuffed my hands, grabbed my arms, and, in full view of the rest of the passengers, walked me through the entire Philadelphia airport and into the police substation.
No one informed me of my rights, and no one would tell me why I was being not just searched but arrested by police, when I was in violation of no law. I had never been arrested, and no one knew I was there.
Arrested with zero justification and no other respect for basic arrest procedures like Miranda rights.
The evil language-learner spent hours handcuffed in a cell with no explanation of why he was being held or what his rights were. Eventually, after asking for a restroom visit, he got a chance to ask the policeman why he had been arrested. The reply: “I dunno. What’d you do?”
It’s that attitude that is so problematic. Even after searching my luggage without probable cause of a crime and finding nothing out of the ordinary, TSA agents and the police felt they had the authority to detain and then arrest me, purely on ignorant assumptions about a language spoken by 295 million people worldwide.
Of course the ignorant bullies who wrecked this man’s flight and casually abducted him will never face any negative consequences for their criminal aggression. The Philadelphia Airport will pay for some damages. The good outcome (hopefully) is that, as part of the settlement, airport police
will be periodically instructed that they have an independent duty to establish probable cause before arrest, and cannot simply clap in cuffs anyone the TSA calls suspicious.
Try to wrap your head around that. It requires special training to let police officer’s know they can’t just arrest people on orders for no other reason.
Personally, I hope this lawsuit makes a dent but I am cynical that much will change about the direction of our country. We may not live in Russia yet, but we are doing our best to get there.