Tuesday, September 13, 2011

725 guns!

A friend forwards the following from Blogger Bob via the Economist:

Speaking of good catches, did you know that our officers have found 725 firearms in carry-on luggage since January of 2011? And it’s still only September!

So that's about 1000 firearms per year. (!) There are that many absentminded American gun-owners who totally forget that, oh, whoops, you can't bring a gun on a plane? It mentions a 1-2% failure rate which seems, actually, sort of okay—in other words, a would-be terrorist would be caught 49 times out of 50 trying to sneak stuff on board, which seems like a pretty good deterrent.

Of course, the body scanners do precious little to find the guns. No one here (that I know of) is arguing against WTMDs at airports. You know, because they actually do something.

This one takes the cake (or, don't get the runs airborne on Sept. 11)

So, there was the anniversary of September 11. And on that anniversary, we pretty much forgot about all the freedom we have here in the good ol' US and A. Amongst the stories of particular crazy was the widely-reported DEN-DTW Frontier flight which was delayed on the ground in Detroit because, uh, some brown-ish people were all seated in the same row. Seriously.
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.
In other words, go and read the whole post.

This is beyond compare for so many reasons. First of all, the terrorists back in the day attacked planes from United and American and flew them in to New York and Washington. There's less bang for your buck hijacking a Frontier plane and flying it in to, what, an abandoned building in downtown Detroit? Aside from that sort of snark, three people who don't look like Norman Rockwell's picture of America sitting in the same row does not a crisis make. Even if two of the guys get up, in succession, to go to the bathroom.

I could see if they were chanting in some foreign language. I mean, sure, it would probably still be an overreaction, and it would be unwarranted, but this does not seem to have been the case. Or if they were trying to light their shoes on fire. In that case, yeah, kick their butts.

But, it wasn't. Apparently someone got spooked, told a flight attendant, and everyone flipped out. The FBI interviewed everyone on the plane. I hope they figure out what numbskull got so spooked of someone who didn't look just like them. I hope the TSA, and airline crews, and even fellow passengers, can use this as a learning experience to not get creeped out when the person next to them doesn't look like a real 'Merkin. And I hope this kind of miscarriage never happens again.

Of course, I think a lot of what we can learn from this instance, and from September 11 itself, is that we need to be more open with our friends and neighbors and, well anyone in out community. This is the United States. This is somewhere where a Saudi Arabian and a Jew get married and no one looks at them funny (well, unless they happen to be seated next to two Indian-looking fellows). This is the melting pot. We need to celebrate diversity, not fear it. Imagine if someone had reached out to talk to these folks. Say, "hi." Ask them about their flight, and their trip. Find out that they are, hey, normal Americans just like everyone else. Diffuse the situation (which, of course, wasn't a situation until it was made a situation). And get everyone off of the plane and in to the terminal and on with their lives.

And once the plane was on the ground, well, all hell seems to have broken loose. Maybe protocol was followed, in which case protocol needs to be changed. In god's (allah's?) holy name, why are you strip searching these people? Why are you handcuffing them? What kind of harm could they do to anyone other than themselves with something they smuggled through security (oh, wait) once the plane is on the ground? Innocent until proven guilty apparently does not apply when you are on an airplane and don't look just like everyone else on the craft. This is another point where a little common sense (talk to the people, run a quick background check, find out that—hey, look!—they're not terrorists) is much better than humiliating them, handcuffing them and leading them in shackles for an interrogation. Lordy, what are they going to tell you about living in suburban Ohio, after all?

If I were a passenger on this plane—and if I had been inconvenienced for hours for no real reason other than a few people getting a little too excited about the Evil Doers—I'd want a full explanation from the airline. Not the FBI's cop out "Due to the anniversary of Sept. 11, all precautions were taken, and any slight inconsistency was taken seriously. The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not." (Apparently some folks on a LA to NY flight also had the shits, and that flight was also escorted in, but they must have been white, so they they avoided the interrogation.) No, I'd want to know why the flight crew, once on the ground, called for the police, taxied away from the gate, and put in motion a long-term interrogation.

This sounds like a JANFU* between Frontier, the local DHS (gosh) and the flight crew. Cooler heads should have prevailed.

* JANFU, in the vein of SNAFU and FUBAR, is a joint Army-Navy foul up, when multiple parties are to blame for a sticky situation. To put it nicely.