September 19, 2002
3:30 PM   Subscribe

"One of the marshals said something like, 'We didn't like the way you looked,' " Rajcoomar recalled. "They also said something like, 'We didn't like the way you looked at us.'"
posted by artifex (31 comments total)
Well that will teach him for living it up in schwanky first class while his poor wife languished in cattle class... In fact she probably slipped the air marshal a ten spot to give him a hard time.

Just kidding, that's lame.
posted by zeoslap at 3:35 PM on September 19, 2002

Great, we've got armed federally employed thugs on board our aircraft. I feel so much safer now. If this is how adrenaline and testosterone fueled they normally are I would seriously hate to see what happens on a flight when one has a bad day. We'd better hope that their wives don't stray, talk back or run up the visa the night before.
posted by substrate at 3:42 PM on September 19, 2002

"Rajcoomar, 'to the best of our knowledge, had been observing too closely'

Look, they need to make up their fucking minds. Are we supposed to be vigilant, or not?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:46 PM on September 19, 2002

not enough training
men with guns are frightening
terrorist or cop
posted by gen at 3:55 PM on September 19, 2002

how does terrorizing u.s. army doctors and mothers with small children keep us safe on airplanes? these air marshal rage incidents are troubling. reminds me of michael biehn in 'the abyss.'
posted by donkeyschlong at 4:01 PM on September 19, 2002

mmmh think I may cancel my business trip to new york next month... I'm often mistaken for being of arabic decent.
posted by keno at 4:07 PM on September 19, 2002

One passenger, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge James Lineberger, said marshals "were yelling at passengers to keep their heads and hands out of the aisle... . I couldn't believe they would do such a thing."


[Another passenger] an Indian former U.S. Army major Bob Rajcoomar an ex-military doctor from Lake Worth, Fla., where he has had a family practice for two decades...was silently whisked him away in handcuffs.

Were they of different skin colours, perhaps?
posted by dash_slot- at 4:11 PM on September 19, 2002

...hope Judge James gives Bob an acquittal...
posted by dash_slot- at 4:12 PM on September 19, 2002

Ah christ. Post gone to ether. Restatement, w/ brevity:

1). This is fucked up and wrong.

2). He was "observing too closely" while they were POINTING GUNS AT PEOPLE and YELLING? I'd have my eyes fucking glued to the scene, myself.
posted by cortex at 4:30 PM on September 19, 2002

Hmmm... Although I usually side with the civil libertarians on these matters, I just don't see it in this case. If I'm on a plane and an air marshal there has a reasonable suspicion that some sort of concerted terrorist effort might be underway, what else should he do other than tell everyone to keep their heads down and hands out of sight? If I'm Joe Air Marshal, I'm assuming there are possibly armed co-conspirators.

If someone is glaring at me, maybe I'm going to wonder if he's one of the "bad guys." And this is one of those cases where I say, OK, maybe racial profiling is a necessary evil, but only when used judiciously and as one of a number of tools. For the tech-savvy, think of the "rules" that SpamAssassin uses to determine whether inbound email is spam.

Meaning, no, you don't give a wayward glance at every dark-skinned person as they board the plane. Granted, I'm making some minor assumptions here, but if - as in this case - you have reason to believe "something's up," and the guy is glaring at you more than the other passengers and he has relatively dark skin, well, I don't see why it's wrong to take a closer look.

Is it unfortunate for him to be detained for a couple hours? Yeah, it is, but I'd rather that they took his information, caused him no bodily harm and imprisoned him for a whopping three hours than simply released a possible co-conspirator into the night with a pat on the back. The whole "imprison them permanently without a warrant" thing generally gets my hackles up, but three hours is not a lifetime.

I'm surprised to say it, but I don't see a problem. I think this is how it's supposed to work. Anyone care to explain the other side, and what the marshal should have done differently?
posted by Sinner at 4:43 PM on September 19, 2002

What about Mrs. Rajcoomar's civil rights:

Unseen by his wife 30 rows back, Rajcoomar was whisked off the plane, taken to an airport police station, and locked in a cell he called so filthy "I wouldn't even put my dog in it."

He may not want to put his dog in an airport police station, but has no problem putting his wife in coach while he sits in first class...
posted by dchase at 5:00 PM on September 19, 2002

Sinner: It's hard for us to say, since we weren't there (unless, by some amazing coincidence, some Mefite was there - time to come out of the closet!). However, seeing as the reasons given for Rajcoomar's "temporary detention" (aka arrest without charge) are pretty vague at best and could conceivably have applied to anyone in that situation - except, perhaps, for "we didn't like the way you looked" - it does bear some further investigation. I'm sure the other passengers in first class could give us a better idea of whether Rajcoomar was really staring at the shouting men with guns more, or more suspiciously, than the rest of them were.
posted by skoosh at 5:05 PM on September 19, 2002

Anyone care to explain the other side, and what the marshal should have done differently?

How about not taking an unarmed, uninvolved man into custody after the flight had already landed for no reason other than the opinion that he was "too interested" in the men with guns who were screaming just a couple of feet away from his head, after some freak had been plunked into the seats next to him? How about not detaining him in squalor without any notice to his traveling companion or opportunity to a.) know why he are being detained (paying heavy attention to gun-pointing, bellowing authorities isn't a crime, last I checked) or b.) contact legal counsel or family to let them know the situation.

but has no problem putting his wife in coach while he sits in first class...

If the flight was full, maybe there wasn't a choice, perhaps Racjoomar and his wife purchased the last two seats on the plane. (The article states that two seats together were not available.) Perhaps she told him to take the first class seat. (I'd let my husband take the first class seat before me.) Perhaps they roshambo-ed for it, and she lost. Why assume that he put his wife anywhere?
posted by Dreama at 5:13 PM on September 19, 2002

I really didn't intend to leave "why he are being detained" intact. Oh, woe is me when I fail to check thoroughly to be sure that my tenses are all updated when I change my plural, general example to a single, specific one. Argh.
posted by Dreama at 5:15 PM on September 19, 2002

Dchase that's kind of annoying. This has happened to my wife and I, and I almost always take the one up front because my legs are a lot longer. Although she has gone before because she wasn't feeling well. These snap judgements are silly.
posted by cell divide at 5:18 PM on September 19, 2002

Fuckin' Sturmtruppen. These bozos with handguns ought to go guard a liquor store in South Philly or something equally befitting their station in life.
posted by alumshubby at 5:47 PM on September 19, 2002

apparently they'll let any old butt-reaming asshole become an air marshal, eh? oh wait - butt-reaming assholes are running the nation now, right? never mind.
posted by quonsar at 6:27 PM on September 19, 2002

"This is blatant racial profiling,"

Even better, since the passenger in question is of Indian extraction, it wasn't even profiling for the correct race.

(You know, stipulating that, for the purposes of racial profiling, we're looking for Arabs...)
posted by stet at 6:27 PM on September 19, 2002

I love Yooha. I get all my news there!

quonsar - I lost the link to "AnusFilter" - you got it handy?
posted by yhbc at 6:37 PM on September 19, 2002

When the aircraft landed, the airline declined to press charges" against either man,

Gosh that was really swell of the airlines not to press charges against Dr. Rajcoomar for "not looking good to a U.S. Marshal." (That's a Class B felony charge carrying a minimum of 16 months in prison.)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:09 PM on September 19, 2002

Just re-discovered Anusfilter myself - that is such a good pastiche!
posted by dash_slot- at 7:14 PM on September 19, 2002

And this is one of those cases where I say, OK, maybe racial profiling is a necessary evil, but only when used judiciously and as one of a number of tools. For the tech-savvy, think of the "rules" that SpamAssassin uses to determine whether inbound email is spam.

Human beings are not fucking peices of spam.
posted by delmoi at 7:27 PM on September 19, 2002

Dreama: Why assume that he put his wife anywhere?

silly, because he's Indian! that's what they do, isn't it?
posted by tolkhan at 8:42 PM on September 19, 2002

Civil libertarian issues aside (though I hate to leave them there, sinner), what's most alarming about this is the illogic, panic, and clear incompetence with which these particular two acted. In response to a possibly suspicious activity by a single passenger, they felt it necessary to terrorize all of the passengers rather than control the situation and make sure the flight was secure. Then, AFTER freaking everyone out, they're so jacked with testosterone that they've got to railroad one of the people they freaked out?

This isn't security or law enforcement. It's panic, followed by ego-driven payback: probably because the marshals knew they hadn't handled that well, and were ashamed, and resented that. And in the context, the Indian guy becomes the most acceptable target to take out a little frustration.

I really, really hope that those were the two most poorly trained U.S. Marshals in the country. Otherwise....
posted by BT at 8:51 PM on September 19, 2002

BT, please remember that Air Marshals and US Marshals aren't synonymous. Different agencies, different training, different authority. Thank heaven.
posted by Dreama at 8:54 PM on September 19, 2002

I don't believe for a minute that there was any defensible reason to detain the doctor. Still, three hours in police custody is not the same as an arrest; and frankly, nobody was hurt. I can understand why the doctor is angry, but is there really any cause for action? The plane is a confined space, and the air marshals have no recourse to backup or any sophisticated crowd control techniques. It would have been helpful for the situation if there had been an announcement by the crew that no movement would be permitted. Though accounts of the marshal "pointing his gun at passengers" are disconcerting, it's likely he was using appropriate technique with the gun at ready but finger off trigger as in the Elian seizure. When facing a potentially lethal situation, where any of the "innocent" passengers could change in an instant to a dangerous terrorist (the disturbed passenger could have been an intentional diversion, designed to both commandeer the attention of the marshals -- and identify them to anyone else), the officer exercised judgement that placed the safety of the majority of the passengers over their right not to be terrified.

If we're going to say we need air msrshals on planes at all, we need to give them the authority to operate. The TSA may need to give the marshals -- all of them -- further training in handling masses of passengers in some of the most cramped conditions any of us willingly endure. Maybe they need to communicate more in these kinds of situations. It would be nice if they would communicate why they detained the doctor, but I'm not sure I see that his detention itself was a problem -- at least one involved abrogation of rights.
posted by dhartung at 10:49 PM on September 19, 2002

dhartung, if there's no defensible explanation, as you noted, and as the facts indicate, it's as simple as that. his rights were violated. even the judge on the plane was shocked.
posted by donkeyschlong at 11:28 PM on September 19, 2002

He should have uttered, "Let's roll," and rushed this Brian Dennehy-in-"First Blood"-like maniac.
posted by inksyndicate at 11:28 AM on September 20, 2002

He may not want to put his dog in an airport police station, but has no problem putting his wife in coach while he sits in first class...

Both Dr. Bob and his wife were in coach, in separate seats. He only moved to first class when the marshalls pinned the actual crazy guy into the seat next to him.

Does anyone know what the appearance of the crazy guy was? And was everyone who looked like him questioned?

For those who'd support profiling in this case, do you think, given that the terrorists who attacked last September were arab muslims, that a person should fit either one or both of those adjectives if they're going to be detained?
posted by anildash at 3:43 PM on September 20, 2002

Anil, even Rajcoomar can't decide whether they said We didn't like the way you looked or We didn't like the way you looked at us. The TSA statement is that he was detained for "observing too closely", whatever that means. One can presume he was putting his military observational skills to good use and they took it the wrong way; maybe they would've ignored it (or bonded!) if he were white; maybe not. The profiling charge is a he said/he said right now.

And FYI: Rajcoomar was in seat 1-D. To my knowledge, US carriers count from the front regardless of class, so that puts him in First. The empty seat the guy was put into was 1-C, presumably a former air marshal seat (remember, the plane was full), which may provide another clue -- that he had been observed prior to the incident and tagged for a second look. If he'd been arrested just for that it would be profiling. But during the incident the marshals had an excuse, however thin, to re-examine him based on his behavior. Maybe that's not how it looks from the business end of the gun, but I suspect that's how it's going to come out legally. An airplane isn't a street corner, and the legal standard is likely short of probable cause.
posted by dhartung at 2:32 AM on September 21, 2002

he said they said both. not one or the other.
posted by fore at 5:26 PM on September 21, 2002

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