It’s almost four years from the day I was forced off an airplane in Detroit, held for hours in a cell, strip-searched, and interrogated without explanation. Yet when I talk or think about the incident, it is fresh enough that I can still feel the horror, confusion, and anger that consumed me that day. Sometimes it seems so surreal that it happened to me. Other times I intellectualize it and know that this happened because our system has flaws.
But today we have reached a settlement that serves as a great step forward in putting the incident behind me and helping to ensure that others don’t face the same experience I endured on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
The incident made national news, and a blog post I wrote the following day went viral on social media, and then gained a life of its own in the media for a few weeks. I had no idea the maelstrom of activity coming my way, nor the enduring legal battle that would ensue. But in the end, I am relieved that some good has come out of this awful experience.
That Frontier Airlines and the Wayne County Airport Authority are now more aware of racial profiling, civil liberties, and discrimination issues is a benefit to all who fly, and maybe other airports and other airlines will take notice and follow suit.
That Judge Berg in the federal court in Detroit wrote that constitutional rights trump imagined security threats puts language into the law books that can be used to aid similar cases that come down the pike. The decision is a reminder that people shouldn’t be pushed around in the name of national security, particularly because of the color of their skin or the sound of their names.
That the ACLU stood by me, knowing that what happened to me was wrong, gives me faith that there are people who fight tooth and nail to bring about justice.
And that maybe people have begun to learn that campaigns like “See Something, Say Something” will not actually move the country forward or make us safer. In fact, they only stoke the flames of fear and suspicion instead of helping us come together as a united, democratic, and free-thinking country.
One of the most poignant questions I received during the media’s attention to my story was: “Do you think you are patriotic?”
I had to stop and think about that question for a moment, as the words “patriot” and “patriotic” have become so warped in the last 14 years that it seems there’s no room left for skepticism or criticism of government.
But I told the reporter that I believed I was a patriot because I want what is best for this country and its people. And because I believe that being truly patriotic means expecting your country to continually evolve toward a more equal and just society.
And that is what I believe has happened with the settlement of my case.
I sincerely hope that it serves as a catalyst for progress and lets others who have been discriminated against in the name of national security stand up for their constitutional – and human – rights.