The Crimson contacted me today, asking me for an opinion about Star’s fun morning at the airport. I’m not exactly a huge fan of the Crimson, but I figured I should respond to decrease the likelihood of their story turning into a huge, unreasonable, unresearched mess a la The Globe/The Herald. I’ve known Star since her prefrosh days, and she’s a really wonderful, friendly, talented girl and I really hate that the media is being so unkind to her right now. Just in case they start quoting me out of context (and because, hey, my blog could always use an update), here’s what I wrote….
First of all, if you haven’t already, you should really check out BoingBoing for a much much better job of reporting the facts than the mainstream media has done: http://www.boingboing.net/2007/09/21/mit-student-arrested.html One of the really unfortunate things about this story is that the police department issued a press release that implied a lot of false things, and MIT/Star never released an official statement to the contrary, so I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding of the actual facts surrounding the issue. I would be very disappointed if the Crimson chose to simply follow in the Globe/Herald’s footsteps and not investigate the actual facts of what happened.
As for my opinion: I think the big issue here is not even necessarily the balance between protecting the public and free speech because there are a number of bigger questions. First of all, what kind of protection is it that we are supposed to be receiving? The US Department of Homeland Security has invested billions of dollars in security to make us “safer”–but what are the results? We have police officers who have (TWICE now just in Boston!) failed to tell the difference between an actual threat and something that is clearly (to people familiar with electrical engineering, anyway) not a bomb. So how does that make us safer? If the police are so often wrong about what a bomb ISN’T, what’s to say that they’ll be good at figuring out what a bomb IS? Furthermore, if that money isn’t going towards training the people who are supposed to know best about what a bomb looks like, where IS it going?
(More after the jump)
Second of all, there is a completely disproportional amount of security at airports right now. Yes, September 11th happened and it was absolutely horrible, but look at the areas of the world where terrorism is more rampant–places like nightclubs, public squares, and other very crowded public areas are much more frequent targets of terrorist attacks than airports, so why such a disparity in the level of security? As one of my friends put it, “Even if it was kind of absent-minded for Star not to realize how freaking fascist airport security is, it’s understandable because she just extrapolated from the rest of the world she walks in, which interprets a circuit-board as weird rather than dangerous.” Of course, I’m not encouraging security with M16s to start showing up at the Avalon, but it seems to me that the intense amount of security at airports is indicative of a bigger problem, which is that homeland security seems to focus on reactionary measures aimed more at appeasing the frightened public than actually preventing terrorist acts (liquids in a bag? I mean, REALLY).
I think what makes the incident really not an issue of protecting the public/free speech is also that Star was NOT, as many mainstream media sources would have it, intentionally trying to cause a ruckus or making a statement. As a student of a college not known for its affinity for the AM, Star probably groggily threw on her favorite hoodie before picking up her boyfriend: it wasn’t a “performance piece” or a statement or a “fake bomb”, which makes it sound like it was supposed to look like a real bomb. She was NOT yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. The question is, then, where is the line between protecting the public and nearly killing a member of that public over a misunderstanding? I think this is something that the police department’s press release has cleverly directed attention away from. In a situation like this, the proper plan of action is to a) quickly assess whether or not there is actually a threat and if yes, b) quarantine the subject to make sure no harm is done while it is being figured out, and then if, as in this case, there is no threat, c) release the subject with an apology. Yes, an APOLOGY, for scaring the daylights out of a poor 19-year-old girl who made a bad early morning wardrobe decision, because even if it was a bad idea, it isn’t a bad idea that deserves the totally disproportionate reaction of having automatic weapons pointed at your face. Instead, what has happened? Security failed at a) (in addition to failing to correctly assess the device, they didn’t believe her when she told them what it is, a fact that reports have conveniently left out), overreacted during b), and instead of doing c) has tried her with a bogus charge. Meanwhile, the mainstream media has taken security’s account of the events hook, line, and sinker and attacked the poor girl with insults and a misinformed and pissed-off Bostonian population, mostly because they are either too lazy to actually do research or because the genre of “let’s poke fun of smart kids” is too good to pass up. What worries me, as I said on Pf-open, is that in this situation if she had actually been shot, a lot of people would have thought that she deserved it for the “protection of the public” and her true story would have had a lot of trouble surfacing in the current media atmosphere because, frankly, it’s not as interesting. And that is really, really messed up.
As for my comment about minorities and dyed hair–I would like to preface my explanation with the fact that I wrote about this last and least in-depth for a reason, and I really hope you don’t focus on this over all the other stuff I said just to play the race card. It is a known fact that minorities get “randomly checked” at airports way more than non-minorities, and that dyed hair is often a sign of “countercultural elements” (read: hippies, punks, and anarchists–oh my!) who also get some of the same treatment, so the fact that she had both definitely didn’t help the situation at the very least.