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Brown-Skinned Lady Sits Next To Two Indian Men On Plane, Gets Strip-Searched And Detained For ‘Suspicious Activity’

15 September 2011 General 8 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By Tanya Somanader, ThinkProgress on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm

On the same day the country gathered together to recognize the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) launched two F-16 jets to tail a Frontier Airlines flight from Denver after the crew reported “suspicious activity on board.” That “activity”? The existence of three dark-skinned passengers. Two Indian men and one self-described “half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife” from Ohio — all unknown to each other — made the mistake of boarding a plane on Sept. 11, 2011.

After the crew reported that two people had spent “an extraordinarily long time” in the bathroom, the jets escorted the plane to its destination in Detroit, Michigan. Then, according to reports and the “half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife” Shoshana Hebshi, a SWAT team of about 10 police boarded the plane with machine guns and three dogs, approached Hebshi and the men’s aisle, handcuffed them, and escorted them off the plane:

Before I knew it, about 10 cops, some in what looked like military fatigues, were running toward the plane carrying the biggest machine guns I have ever seen–bigger than what the guards carry at French train stations.

My last tweet: Majorly armed cops coming aboard

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.

After interrogating and strip-searching the three passengers, the FBI determined hours later that “there was no real threat,” excusing the wildly disproportionate response by stating, “The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not.” When Hebshi asked her interrogator what sparked the concern, he replied “that someone on the plane had reported that the three of us in row 12 were conducting suspicious activity.” Hebshi noted that the “activity” was two Indian men “going to the bathroom in succession.”

Hebshi’s situation is an all-too-common example from one of 9/11′s salient legacies: racial and ethnic profiling. Multiple minorities — Muslim or not — have been banned from flights or subjected to humiliating searches solely because of their appearance. Indeed, U.S. officials even spurred diplomatic tension with India last year for detaining its U.N. envoy and demanding to physically check his turban.

Living through this era of Islamophobia, Hebshi wondered whether the mere fact that three minorities “who didn’t know each other” but were dark-skinned will always be “suspicion enough.”

Original post: Brown-Skinned Lady Sits Next To Two Indian Men On Plane, Gets Strip-Searched And Detained For ‘Suspicious Activity’


  1. That is a shame, shame, shame. Frontier Air Lines should be ashamed of themselves.

  2. While flying to and from several destinations in Europe in 2005, I was the focus of, what seemed to this blue-eyed, red-haired middle-aged lady, very close scrutiny that stopped just short of strip searching, but included extended perusal of my luggage and pat downs, and lots and lots of questions. It didn’t occur to me until later, while discussing this detailed security attention, that I was told that my married name – Sajna – looked “middle Eastern” to computer programs and probably caused me to be flagged for attention. In a second instance of “profiling”‘ I put spinner wheel covers on m little black Honda in order to be considered at least a little cool by my high school students. Yep, you guessed it – I got stopped by police several times. These experiences helped me understand what people of color and teenagers go through in the modern world. It is just something we have to deal with as gracefully as we can. Profiling is wrong, but in the absence of anything better,sometimes is all that law enforcement has to go on.

  3. Really gotta watch those Ohioans!

  4. I have my wife (who is half black) traveling alone to see me. I hope nothing like this happens to her.

  5. I’m ashamed of this kind of lunacy by judging people w/h skin color.I am Filipino and Spanish heritage who love to wear hats and scarves on my head ,do I look suspicious I bet on their stupid thinking.

  6. thank you for your comment lisa….

  7. Such a sad exercise in total ignorance and hate. So embarrasing for the US or for any other’s as just as bad. The racism is so bad now it is almost a pandemic! And of course, the Islamaphobia is just unreal. btw? it is no joke. No matter what state you are from. If you suffered such a thing as this woman? You would not be joking about it at all. Ani

  8. So embarrasing for the US or for any country

    i wonder if they slapped metal cuffs on them. my god the suffering. muslims really need to look in the mirror.

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