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Some Real Shock and Awe: Racially Profiled and Cuffed in Detroit

Plaintiff Shoshana Hebshi
Plaintiff Shoshana Hebshi
Shoshana Hebshi,
ACLU Plaintiff
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January 22, 2013

It’s been more than a year since I was pulled off that Frontier flight at the Detroit airport for reasons I can only ascribe to discrimination and racial profiling. It was the end of a long trip home for me, but the beginning of a life-altering experience that has ultimately led me to shine a light on this great injustice. We often think of racial profiling as a problem that impacts other people. I am proof that racial profiling hurts us all.

I can only gather that I was targeted and forced at gunpoint off that plane, handcuffed, loaded into a police car and taken into custody for hours because of my ethnic name and the chance circumstance that I was sitting next to two men of South Asian descent. As officers boarded the plane we were ordered to put our heads down and our arms in front of us. I wondered if there was a fugitive on board. I had no idea they were coming for me. When they stopped at my row and ordered me to stand up, I was completely shocked and panicked. I was ordered off the flight at gunpoint, handcuffed and shuttled in the back of a police car to a small cell where an officer strip searched me. I was scared and alone in that dirty cell. I can’t begin to describe the humiliation I felt.

No one would tell me what was going on despite my repeated requests for information. No one told me of my rights or when I would be able to call my family who had no idea where I was. You can imagine this was very difficult for them as the last time they heard from me was when I hung up the phone with my husband in Ohio saying that stairs were coming and I thought I’d be home soon. I was in the dark about why I was being held until I was interrogated by an FBI agent. Though it still didn’t make sense, I deduced that it was because of my proximity to the men who apparently got up to go to the bathroom a few times during the flight.

In my wildest dreams, I would have never imagined being in this situation, and I often think about what would have happened if my twin boys were with me. Every time I fly, I wonder if today is the day it’s going to happen again. I wonder if I will leave the flight on my own accord or be paraded through the aisle like a criminal. I know now that my only crime on that day was an ethnic name and arbitrary seat assignment.

This, certainly, was a difficult day for me, but I also recognize that many others have experienced similar horrors because of racial profiling. Through this lawsuit, I hope to reclaim the dignity that is taken from us when racial profiling trumps the American values of fairness and equality. I wrote in my blog the day following this ordeal, and I speak out today because I know this is not the America I want to raise my children in. This kind of discrimination cannot be tolerated.

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