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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Charges of ethnic profiling emerge following 9/11 terror scare in Detroit

One of the three people pulled off a Frontier Airlines flight after landing at Detroit Metro Airport on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is speaking out, blaming the entire situation on jittery passengers who feared them because of their ethnicity. Shoshana Shebshi, daughter of a Saudi father and a Jewish mother, is a housewife from Ohio and an American citizen.

Elisa Mueller
News
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Sep 14, 2011

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinLaw_Thumb1.jpgOne of the three people pulled off a Frontier Airlines flight after landing at Detroit Metro Airport on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is speaking out, blaming the entire situation on jittery passengers who feared them because of their ethnicity.

Shoshana Shebshi, daughter of a Saudi father and a Jewish mother, is a housewife from Ohio and an American citizen. By sheer coincidence she was seated on the plane next to two men of Indian descent from Michigan, none of whom knew each other or even, she says, spoke to each other on the plane until after it landed.

By that point, Shebshi says, they were all wondering what was going on as the plane was taken far from the gate and was surrounded by law enforcement personnel. They were shocked when several heavily armed police officers boarded the plane, handcuffed them and took them to the airport police station for several hours of questioning — including a strip search.

The police had been called by airline personnel, apparently after passengers on the plane reported seeing them engaged in “suspicious” behavior. Shebshi says there was nothing that could arouse genuine suspicion:

The male agent proceeded to ask me a series of questions about where I had been, where I was going, about my family, if I had noticed any suspicious behavior on the plane. The other agent took notes while I talked. They asked if I knew the two men sitting next to me, and if I noticed them getting up during the flight or doing anything I would consider suspicious.

I told them no, and couldn’t remember how many times the men had gotten up, though I was sure they had both gone to the bathroom in succession at some point during the flight.

They had done some background check on me already because they knew I had been to Venezuela in 2001. They asked about my brother and sister and asked about my foreign travel. They asked what I did during the flight. I told them I didn’t get up at all, read, slept and played on my phone (in airplane mode, don’t worry). They asked about my education and wanted my address, Social Security, phone number, Facebook, Twitter, pretty much my whole life story.

Again, I asked what was going on, and the man said judging from their line of questioning that I could probably guess, but that someone on the plane had reported that the three of us in row 12 were conducting suspicious activity. What is the likelihood that two Indian men who didn’t know each other and a dark-skinned woman of Arab/Jewish heritage would be on the same flight from Denver to Detroit? Was that suspicion enough? Even considering that we didn’t say a word to each other until it became clear there were cops following our plane? Perhaps it was two Indian man going to the bathroom in succession?

All three were later released without charges and, according to Shebshi, with apologies from the officers. She concludes her long recall of the incident:

In the aftermath of my events on Sept. 11, 2011, I feel violated, humiliated and sure that I was taken from the plane simply because of my appearance. Though I never left my seat, spoke to anyone on the flight or tinkered with any “suspicious” device, I was forced into a situation where I was stripped of my freedom and liberty that so many of my fellow Americans purport are the foundations of this country and should be protected at any cost.

I believe in national security, but I also believe in peace and justice. I believe in tolerance, acceptance and trying–as hard as it sometimes may be–not to judge a person by the color of their skin or the way they dress. I admit to have fallen to the traps of convention and have made judgments about people that are unfounded. We live in a complicated world that, to me, seems to have reached a breaking point. The real test will be if we decide to break free from our fears and hatred and truly try to be good people who practice compassion–even toward those who hate.

I feel fortunate to have friends and family members who are sick over what happened to me. I share their disgust. But there was someone on that plane who felt threatened enough to alert the authorities. This country has operated for the last 10 years through fear. We’ve been a country at war and going bankrupt for much of this time. What is the next step?

Elisa Mueller | Elisa Mueller was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to a mother who taught reading and a father who taught film. As a result, she spent an excessive amount of her childhood reading books and watching movies. She went to the University of Kansas for college, where she earned bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. She moved to New York City and worked for Entertainment Weekly magazine for ten years, visiting film sets all over the world.

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