Racial profile yourself

 by sara sefeed

To Ms. Ann Jacobsen in response to Terror in the Skies, Again?

Your recent recount of the events on June 29th sound extremely worrying and troublesome to me and I am terribly sorry that you and your family had to go through such a horrific experience. I would, however, like to take a moment to make some clarifications about the state of Homeland Security. I have pondered long and hard about whether I should write this letter, but I have mulled over it for three days and still do not feel comfortable until I have shared my opinion on the topic:

I worked in the World Trade Center 2, on the 38th floor, at the time of September 11th. Many of the victims of that horrific day were not American. In fact, the US was attacked at its most international, and most innocent point – a building where hardworking individuals from all over the world, including Asia, came to work and earn a living through honest means. To me, an attack of such magnitude on more than 3000 civilians who have had nothing to do with politics is much more shocking that one on the Pentagon, which is the hub of US politics and military planning (yes, Bush ignored the 300 page report in August of that year entitled “Osama Bin Laden will attack on US soil”). More importantly, I want to address your questions about “racial profiling” and how the US is handling the issues of “Homeland Security”.

Since we are swapping stories, I thought mine would also shed some light. This is the story of a domestic flight I took with a colleague of mine on February 4th, 2002 from Miami to New York. Dev, an Indian, with black hair, brown eyes and olive skin was traveling with me on the 6 am United flight. Upon showing our tickets at security, we proceeded straight to the gate as we had arrived late for our flight. When we reached security, Dev put his bags on the conveyer, took his shoes and belt off, and slowly walked through the metal detector. Without beeping, he was pulled to the side where one agent started to run his machines up and down Dev’s spread-out arms and legs. Without asking him any questions, two of the security agents, who looked like they had been just fired from the DMV, said they needed to take him to the bomb detection area for further inspection. He gathered his bags and was escorted, he told me later, downstairs to a room with a giant size x-ray machine. There he was treated very nicely, told to take his shoes off and walk through the machine.

After that scan, they brought him outside, ran paps on his laptop, and dissected everything in his bag. After confiscating his plastic Brooks Brothers collar stays and three Q-tips, the non-verbal searching ended, and they told him he could go, in Spanish. He ran upstairs to the gate, got his boarding pass, and was stopped a third time at the gate. Here they ran over this body with hand-held metal detectors, and plastic gloves. Not a single hello or how are you was spared on him. Upon finally boarding the flight, he joined me, panting and sweating.

After the plane took off, I glanced at my boarding stub to check my frequent flier miles. I noticed the name on the stub was one “Mr. Sarefian, Henry”. I looked at my seat. I was in 12A. I looked at the boarding pass again. Mr. Sarefian was assigned to seat 12A. I showed the stub to Dev who stared in bewilderment.

He asked how I had gotten this stub – I told him the agent at the gate had given it to me. I had told her my name and presented my passport (I insist on flying with my passport even domestically because I find it ridiculous that you can board a plane with a Drivers License.) She had looked at my photo and my name Sara Sefeed and printed a boarding pass for Mr. Henry Sarefian. In my hurry, I had not noticed, and proceeded to board.

After checking my passport and boarding pass, the boarding agent asked me to step to the side for a routine security check. The security agent asked for my boarding pass and ID and performed her scientific two-second test and also verified my documents. She patted me down and then proceeded to take items out of my suitcase with robotic motion, glancing into the distance with a bored expression on her face. After completely crumpling all my suits and misplacing all my belongings, she shoved the open suitcase towards me, without a word, as if to say, “Here – clean it up”. I zipped up my bag, thanked her and proceeded back to a new boarding agent. He also had done a check of my name and passport. The final checkpoint came on the plane, when the stewardess who had greeted me warmly, took my boarding pass. She read it and guided me to my seat. This meant there were five counts of different gate agents, boarding agents, security agents and airline personnel who had failed to recognize that I was not a “Mr.” and that my name “Sara Sefeed”, printed in bold letters in my passport, had not in any way matched a " Mr. Sarefian, Henry”.

It was outrageous. Could nobody read? Could anybody speak? Did they even know any English? Worst yet, did they not know the difference between a man and a woman? I am sure the gate agent had looked at my first name, assumed it was my last name, and upon finding the first record starting with “Sar”, she had identified my boarding pass. The reality was that I had passed five different sets of eyes with a fake name and for all they knew, cross-dressed as a woman. It was unspeakable. I was furious and wanted to report the incident to CNN, BBC, NPR, and anybody else who would listen. This was security? When we landed, despite my reluctance, Dev made me call United Airlines to report the event. He insisted that poor Henry had probably just missed his flight and now United thought he was already in New York.

I tell this story because I believe the real security problem in America is a deep and rooted problem of education, and common law that is lacking all around us. It has to do with the poor laws of travel and the unqualified people who run the day-to-day with no regard for passenger security. Because everything