Thursday, December 08, 2005

Death by Reason of Insanity aka Shanikka's Really DUMB Questions

Taking the advice of a woman far smarter than I where blogging is concerned, I'm posting this -- a comment that I left on the smart person's great leftwing blogMy Left Wing both here and in several other places to hopefully spur others to serious thought about what happened yesterday at Miami International Airport - the killing, in the name of safety, a man named Rigoberto Alpizar by members of the United States Federal Air Marshal Service.

I was, last night, quite torn and troubled about what had happened, since this is by all accounts the first time since 9/11 that the US Marshals have exercised their privilege on an aircraft to kill someone if they believe that person poses a greater harm.

This story had me heartsick and quite conflicted yesterday afternoon. But this morning, I woke up awash with what what I labeled in my comment on MLW as my really dumb questions. I sure wish that the Air Marshals would answer them:

Dumb Question #1: Don't most male passengers traveling internationally keep their passports/identifying paperwork somewhere other than in their pockets, given the high risk caused by loss of these items - and wouldn't an arriving international passenger need that item first thing upon disembarking?

OK this is my bias coming out, but the very *first* thought that popped into my mind when I heard the "reaching into a backpack" part was this:

Amadou Diallo

Dumb Question #2: If it is true that this man was arguing with his spouse for much of the first leg of this flight from Quito, and this gave the marshals cause for concern, why did nobody warn Miami in advance that this possibly unsafe/unstable/terrorist person was coming so that beefed up security could have been waiting for him?

I've heard of them turning planes completely around for an overly drunk belligent passenger who is of no harm to anyone but him/herself. Certainly, the folks with the cuffs can and regularly do detain/arrest passengers who are "suspicious" based on in-flight conduct. Yet this guy was allowed to travel, disembark, go through customs, and reboard without anyone even attempting to discern what was the matter?

Dumb Question #3: Is it truly believable that anyone could have gotten a "bomb" or other dangerous piece of material past security in Ecuador that American Airlines and every other US based carrier has imposed for all flights traveling into the US?

At present, I cannot even get a cigarette lighter past security. It is caught in the XRay machine. How could a person just get a bomb through security in their carry-on luggage when you can't even get through with fertilizer residue on the bottom of your shoes? We're not talking about an international carrier that might, perhaps, be less diligent than a US carrier. We're talking about American Airlines, the owner and operator of 2 of the lost 9-11 aircraft. That backpack was without question looked into when he boarded the flight.

So what changed during the time between Ecuador and landing in Miami? Is this an international plastiques expert that just managed to end up on board and jerryrig something in the lavatory mid-flight and, if so, wouldn't whoever actually looks into passenger manifests under the TSA program (or whatever it is called these days) have known that a weapons expert was on board?

Dumb Question #4: How is it that the air marshals heard him say he had a bomb but did not hear his wife screaming down the aisle of the plane after him about his mental illness? And how is it that the air marshals managed to hear this when presently, not a single passenger, boarding passenger, or airline employee/airport worker claims to also have heard it?

Maybe it was a language thing - maybe they don't teach the marshals Spanish. Although I understand that the (brand new) widow was also screaming in English. Maybe it's a culture thing: they don't understand that right now, even the US Supreme Court acknowledged in Illinois v. Wardlowthat the mere possibility of police confrontation can cause innocent people to run away (or try to, before they usually get shot dead). As the late, (in)famous Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote:

Respondent and amici also argue that there are innocent reasons for flight from police and that, therefore, flight is not necessarily indicative of ongoing criminal activity. This fact is undoubtedly true, but does not establish a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Even in Terry, the conduct justifying the stop was ambiguous and susceptible of an innocent explanation. The officer observed two individuals pacing back and forth in front of a store, peering into the window and periodically conferring. Terry, 392 U.S., at 5—6. All of this conduct was by itself lawful, but it also suggested that the individuals were casing the store for a planned robbery. Terry recognized that the officers could detain the individuals to resolve the ambiguity. Id., at 30.

In allowing such detentions, Terry accepts the risk that officers may stop innocent people. Indeed, the Fourth Amendment accepts that risk in connection with more drastic police action; persons arrested and detained on probable cause to believe they have committed a crime may turn out to be innocent. The Terry stop is a far more minimal intrusion, simply allowing the officer to briefly investigate further. If the officer does not learn facts rising to the level of probable cause, the individual must be allowed to go on his way.

Who knows? Maybe it's because the Marshals neither follow the Supreme Court nor the newspaper, and thus did not truly understand that, contrary to myth, not every completely harmless person views being approached by the police as a benign event and stands still secure in their innocence, even now that we are fighting our war on terror.

Dumb Question #5: Is it really plausible that a terrorist could decide that it was more important/showy/terror inducing to wait until landing in Miami to detonate an explosive on an airport jetway that might, if he's lucky, kill 20 people, instead of blowing his arriving flight up mid-air and killing with certainty more than 130? Or blowing his stash in customs, which he had already come through and cleared, and kill God knows how many people from all over the world?

This is the one that is sticking with me the most, today.

But not as much as the words "Amadou Diallo."

The good news? Here, just off the presses: Dubbya says that the air marshals did the right thing. And, as we all know, if Dubbya says that a government employee with responsibility for our homeland security is qualified and doing a good job, then it's true.

Or is that doing a heck of a job?

Oh well, fighting terrorism is hard work. Federal air marshals, like all law enforcement officers, never shoot people who are of no danger to anyone. They are always careful and reflective (which I'd like to think anyone packing heat should be). After all, even the U.S. Supreme Court says that use of deadly force has a limit.. People like this psychologist hired to do a study for Walter Reed Army Medical Center simply don't understand why if we worry about law enforcement mistakes shooting people, the terrorists will have won:

During the investigation of the domestic complaint, 19% of students shot the hostage. . .Moreover, 97% failed to meet the criterion of 70% of their rounds hitting the suspect. . .. Many of the students fired blindly, from the minimal cover available. Trainees were expected to call for backup in high-risk situations and had also been taught that if using their radio while their weapon was in their hand, the weapon should be kept in the dominant hand. Seventy percent failed this element by switching the weapon to the weak hand, in order to operate the radio in the dominant hand. The approved response for coping with the “dud” round that fails to fire is to tap the magazine, rack the slide and reengage
the threat. The majority of the students failed this element, resorting to a variety of methods, all less desirable, to clear the malfunction. . . During the IA investigation, only 43% of students could accurately describe their shot placement. . .and only 57% could accurately identify the exact moment when the situation and doctrine first justified the use of lethal force.

Hmm. Well, we have to give law enforcement, especially the Air Marshals, the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are only there to protect us. Even if they sometimes overreact just a little bit.

Especially when you are mentally ill. Or Black, like Amadou Diallo. Or now, perhaps, both nonwhite *and* psychotic, like the late, not yet-quite-lamented by anyone but his family and neighbors (all of who say he was a pretty OK guy), Rigoberto Alpizar.


At 1:32 PM, Blogger Boots said...

Your questions of course are not dumb. They are reasonable but they are also "after the fact" You were not there. You were not entrusted with the safety of over 100 people. You did not have to weigh the life of one man against more than a 100 in a split second. Would you have time to ask yourself those questions? I grieve for the family but I also grieve for those who lost their lives on 9/11 because of inaction.
But keep asking questions that's what a free country is about.

At 6:01 AM, Anonymous RiverMomma said...

Well asking such questions after the fact and whenever we CAN might help prevent the misuse of force or violence in the future. Granted, we were not there and split second decisions are not easy. But what about training on potential mental health crises, or ways to subdue an irate passenger with medication, some other way?
If somebody has a mental illness and says something, they get shot and nobody should second guess? There's no other way? Where are all the high paid consultants?
See here's my bitch: an incident occurs, and instead of getting at the truth, we cover things, we lie, we manipulate facts, we worry about the media and public opinion, we hold nobody accountable, and nobody seems to ever fess up to their mistakes. How can we learn when witnesses on matters like 9-11 are prevented from testifying? When the 9-11 Commission cannot accurately investigate information? When we have a situation like Hurricane Katrina, where lives were lost due to incompetence?
No, the trouble I have is never with asking questions or doing what we can to learn more. The trouble is when we are disingenuous with our efforts to learn more and when we simply investigate to either appease (not empathize with or support) the victims or to support the lies we started with.
How does that honor a victim, or keep us safe? How does hiding or manipulating truth make anyone accountable? Without accountability, people in power seem to have a problem with doing the right thing.
Certainly we the people don't do much to keep anyone's feet to the fire, the media fail us, and the elected officials forget who they serve and what their job description says...


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