Saturday, February 04, 2006

You look a little not pale, may I see your vagina?

The federal government has settled with a group of 87 African American women who were obtrusively searched (in some cases strip-searched) in the late 90s at O'Hare Airport for a sum of $2 million dollars.

Some articles on the topic:
CBS 2 Chicago
ABC 7 Chicago
Chicago Tribune
Chicago Sun-Times

There are a few issues here:
The government admitted no wrong-doing.
From the Sun-Times article:
The government admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, saying the searches at O'Hare are considered "border searches" that do not require warrants and need be based only on reasonable suspicion that the suspect is carrying contraband.

This makes sense, but what criteria were they acting upon?
From the Tribune article:

Jacquelyn Jordan-Akinola, a graduate student from Chicago, said she was strip-searched when she returned from Jamaica in July 1997.

Jordan-Akinola said about 70 percent of the passengers on her flight were white, but when she was steered into a line to be searched, she found herself among all black women.

From the Sun-Times:

All appeared singled out for their race, he said. One woman, an actress returning from Germany, was singled out for an extensive search because her "itinerary was suspicious," even though three white actress colleagues traveling with her had identical itineraries, he said.

So basically, our government agency had a clear policy of racial-profiling. So people might agree with that, others may not. But there's another problem:

From the CBS 2 article:

Victim attorney Edward Fox said, "The most frequently searched group of people were black women. And, at least in 1997, the group most likely not to have drugs on them, were black women."

Finally, the victims, rather than receive this settlement, had wanted to file a class-action suit. But this request was denied by the judge on the case.

So we have a situation where people of the same ethnicity were picked out of line for drug smuggling. When questioned, Customs said that they did so on the basis of circumstantial "suspicious" characteristics, which is a lie because they people they picked out's "suspicious" characteristics were no different than their white counterparts. They also did so on the basis of psychological cues such as nervousness. Of course, if customs agents and law enforcement officials in general have a history of attacking people of color, especially African-Americans, why wouldn't they be nervous? I get nervous in the airport, not because I'm smuggling, but because I'm worried that some assholes might decide to give me a body cavity search.

The group targeted was the least logical for racial pro-filing, unless of course, our government wanted to send a clear message that "We don't care about drugs, we just hate niggers". In the end, the court system refused to recognize this as a consistently targeted group and the government refused to acknowledge wrong-doing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of those who pursued this case and brought attention to the injustice. Sometimes however, when our government decides on an institutional level to condone the sexual assault of women because their skin is too dark, I get a tiny bit ashamed of the country I love.


Blogger Gar said...

"Of course, if customs agents and law enforcement officials in general have a history of attacking people of color, especially African-Americans, why wouldn't they be nervous?"

this right on the money... how the hell are people of color supposed to "calm" when they got asshats with guns breathing down their throat, even when you're engaged in a perfectly harmless activity such as visiting an airport? >=P

10:27 PM  

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