“A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.”
Charlton Heston in “Touch of Evil” dir. Orson Welles, (1958)
Long ago when I was a boy I used to read a magazine called “Punch” while waiting at my pediatrician’s office. It’s gone now, bought out and plowed under by Rupert Murdoch early in his career, but it used to feature a collection of political cartoons from all over the world. One of the cartoons that I saw there that still remains with me was of a man in a Hawaiian shirt with a camera slung from his neck standing in front of a firing squad in some banana republic. The caption read, “Tourist? I thought he said he was a terrorist.”
American law enforcement seems to be having a similar identification problem these days in their somewhat over-zealous prosecution of the “War on Terror”. (Copyright G.W.Bush, renewed B. Obama. All rights reserved.) For example, about three years ago Francis van Asten was detained by the police in a basement room for over an hour for filming the Mall of America. His camera was seized. When the police called the Joint Terrorism Task Force, they were instructed to seize the memory card in the camera and delete all of the videos.
“When I was finally released, I couldn’t find my way to my own car for over a half-hour. I sat down in my car and I cried and I was shaking like a leaf.”, Mr. van Asten later said.
The incident generated an 18 page “suspicious incident” report that may well be enshrined in law enforcement databases for decades.
Imagine what would have happened if he had an Arabic name. Actually, you don’t have to imagine. From a recent NPR article:
Najam Qureshi was born in Pakistan, but he’s been a U.S. citizen since he was a teenager. Today, he manages computer systems for a major company near Minneapolis. He and his family live on a pretty suburban street.
In January 2007, an FBI agent showed up on his doorstep. It turned out that a few weeks before, Qureshi’s father had left his cellphone on a table in the Mall of America’s food court. When the mall’s counterterrorism unit saw the unattended phone, plus someone else’s cooler and stroller, guards cordoned off the area. Qureshi’s father wandered back, looking for his phone, and the RAM unit interrogated him and then reported him to the Bloomington police. In turn, the police reported the incident to the FBI. The documents we obtained show that the mall’s reports went to state and federal law enforcement, in roughly half the cases. The incident with Qureshi’s father led the FBI to want to question Qureshi himself, in his own home.
This is a tourist:
This is a terrorist: