Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 9

Updating from lunch, again. I hate sending in typed letters, but I haven't had time to write out the last two. At least they'll be more legible, I suppose.

Dear Mr. President,

Today while on my way to work I was stopped, for the third time, by a man asking for money. This man doesn’t remember me, as it’s been 3 times in 4 weeks, but I remember him. He’s well-dressed, white, and hangs out on the streets in my (predominantly non-white) neighborhood. He gives the same story about his mother being in one of the 2 major hospitals nearby, and asks for money to drive her back to their hometown, where he promises to mail a check to pay me back, if I leave him my address. Each time, this man tells me the story, and looks about at the homeless men waiting in line by the church center and insists, “I’m not a pan-handler. I’ve gone to the police, I’ve called my bank, but it’s the weekend. I’m just desperate.” What he seems to be saying (and why I find him contemptuous enough to remember him so well) is: “Trust me. I’m white, and middle-class, like you. I dress like your father. I talk like your professors. I’m trustworthy, because we play for the same team.”

Mr. President, I am the daughter of two Sheriff’s deputies. I’ve grown up around law enforcement officers my entire life; I’ve even worked loss prevention for the better part of the last two years. I understand how easy it is to believe that one can tell by race, nationality, age or physical appearance how a person will behave and what kind of threat they pose. But profiling of this kind is the most senseless because it hinders the kind of awareness that actually prevents crimes. If I believed, for example, that every non-white, or visibly poor person on the street was trying to steal from me, or lying about spending the money they ask for on food, than I would likely have given this man at least money, if not also my contact information for its return, the first time he asked me. The idea that a certain race, nation or class of person is automatically untrustworthy implies that trustworthiness can be assumed on such a basis as well.

Working loss prevention has taught me not to pay attention to a person’s clothes or skin color or tattoos or hair style. A person who is going to steal behaves in a certain way, regardless of how they look. That man on the street today acted nervous, only asked other white people for money, despite being surrounded by people of color, and contradicted himself twice in his story. Also, he was dressed like my father. (Clearly, this is not an honest individual.) What angers me is that he has profiled me, as well, a white girl in a non-white neighborhood, naïve, afraid, eager to help those that look like me (but not, “pan-handlers”) This man assumes, based on my skin color and clothes, that we’re on the same team and that he can use that against me.

This also applies to airport security. Take, for example, the three American women in my group, all flying in to the Tel Aviv airport. All three of us were 22 years old, had American passports and spoke English as our first language and offered the same trip information when asked where we were staying in Israel. I was welcomed in and passed through in less than 5 minutes. The second girl, Texan by birth and Indian by blood, was pulled aside, questioned for a half-hour, asked her father and grandfather’s names and (after finding them Hindu and not Muslim,) released. The third girl, the American-born daughter of Iraqi parents, was detained for 4 hours in the airport, shouted at, degraded, and only released after the intervention of our group’s director (himself a white American.) The three of us entered the country with the same ‘nefarious’ purpose; to back-pack, shop, explore ruins and make friends. Of the three, I’m likely the most radical in my political beliefs (and was quick to use my camera phone to snap photos of the Israeli soldiers detaining us during our hike, over their strong objection.) While I pose no threat, whatsoever, to Israel, of the three of us, I, the loud-mouth with the camera phone, was still allowed to enter the country with little to no screening. This is because Israel’s security procedures are based on race, religion and nationality, a system designed to prevent threats, only if they come from people who look, sound, or pray like “enemies.”

My point is that screening people based on what country they’re born in, what word they use for God, or the color of their skin is not going to keep us safer on planes. Rush Limbaugh and the people who think like him may believe that this is a good idea, but the kind of complacency it breeds, (not to mention the time it wastes on the innocent, or their humiliation which can turn into resentment) will only put us in greater danger. Our team doesn’t have the same uniforms or flags or colors, and pretending that the other side does is the worst kind of naiveté.

Respectfully yours,


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