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For the record, as with the previous accounts this is one more story of a pilot who was:

doing absolutely nothing wrong;
breaking no law, guidance, or suggestion formal or informal; and yet
was detained for an extended period, subjected to an intrusive search, and otherwise treated as a suspect in a process that yielded no incriminating material nor anything even vaguely suspicious.

Call me crazy, but the above sounds like an experience all too common to many black and brown people in the United States.

The shadow of the Trayvon Martin case is still with us. Now, George Zimmerman's attorneys embarked on a campaign to poison the jury pool by smearing Trayvon as a wayward "ghetto" black youth.

In their efforts to channel dark and ugly stereotypes about black criminality--in essence making Zimmerman's murder victim into a teen Willie Horton or "black beast rapist" out of the lynching imaginary of 19th and early 20th century America--they have reminded us of the mix of race, politics, and political ideology that make the Martin murder such a lightning rod issue.

If the more than 600 comments at the Daily Kos in response to my essay on the "niggerization" of Trayvon Martin are any indication of the divides in public mood and opinion regarding the case, there are two perspectives which track nicely along the color line in America.

Some assume that Trayvon Martin as a black teen is a priori guilty of some type of crime, and is an existential threat to public order, until proven otherwise. Others see it as ridiculous how a person can face summary execution by a vigilante who decided that he had the right to violate another person's basic freedom to walk down the street.

For a certain political personality type and cohort in the United States, black Americans are viewed as a threat and a poison in the community and public sphere. Whiteness is understood to be a condition of safety, security, and freedom. White privilege operates here through a basic understanding that "White" spaces must be protected and secured from some type of Other and outsider. Freedom operates here to give some individuals the license to deny it to other citizens...and to feel righteous and just in doing so.

Those black Americans who have a shared historical and collective memory of Jim and Jane Crow, slave passes, informal rules about stepping off of the sidewalk when white people pass, the Negro Motorist Green Book, family histories of being threatened by white racial pogroms and violence, or the day-to-day experience of suffering under racial micro-aggressions, see the Zimmerman killing of Trayvon Martin as one more reminder that in too many contexts people of color do not have any rights that white people--and those identified with White Authority--are bound to respect.

In all, the Trayvon Martin tragedy is an unfortunate reminder of the perils (and failings) of racial profiling.

However, in the United States some folks are identified as being uniquely worthy and suitable for being targeted by such policies.

There are other groups of people who are never to be subjected to such treatment. The first group consists of black and brown people, "Muslims," and other people that are naturally deemed to be "suspicious." The second group is white people--the middle and upper class white men especially--who are never to be subjected to such "unfair" practices even if they are over-represented among domestic terrorists, those who commit mass shootings, and a litany of other crimes.

James Fallows has written an ironically well-timed piece (given the return of the Travyon Martin controversy this week) over at The Atlantic on the harassment of civilian pilots by the United States' police and security forces. In responding to a version of the controversial  "stop and frisk" policies of the New York City police,

Fallows observed:

Over the past few days I've relayed several stories that amount to the familiar police force stop-and-frisk policy being extended from the sidewalk to the skies. The case of Gabriel Silverstein (originally told by AOPA) is here. Those of Larry Gaines and Clay Phillips are here. This photo, apparently of a real interdiction, is via AOPA.
Now pilots and others respond, plus another first-hand story, from another pilot who for no reasonfound his plane surrounded by police.  

1) Politics. I pointed out earlier that as a group general-aviation pilots are older, whiter, more politically conservative, and more likely to have a military background than the population at large. While they're not all rich, they're all committed to an expensive pastime/ passion/avocation. So as a group they're not used to being on the wrong side of routine hassles by the police. Therefore, I concluded, if they (we) are now being viewed with routine suspicion, you can imagine circumstances for people in the "driving while black" category.

In essence, it is well to do white older men who are being subjected to harassment by police. Abstract matters of public policy often do not become personally relevant until they impact a given person directly. Here, "not in my back yard" would seem to extend to the "stop and frisk" policies of police against white pilots.

One of Fallows' commenters notes:
The stories you have published lately about the harassment of private pilots are truly disturbing. There is one point you made that I suspect is stirring up some dust -- "So if the security state is leaning heavily on them, you can extrapolate to other groups." I think your take on this is correct -- if older white guys are being harassed, just imagine what is happening to other folks.

However, the "jack booted fascists" comment made me think that a lot of these folks feel that they are being targeted specifically because they are older white conservatives. This perception has been reinforced by the recent IRS hullaballoo of course. But the general sentiment has been going on for a long time -- fueled by all the right-wing media and repeated in their echo chambers.

I'm reasonably confident that one or two of your correspondents on the airplane stories have said something in the past in favor of "stop and frisk" type laws, property seizure in suspected drug crimes, etc. It is a reminder for all of us that freedom is for everybody, not just us and those who look like us...

I wonder, what are the limits of empathy?

Will the affluent, older, white male pilots who are being harassed by the police come to realize how these policies are universally unjust and a violation of all people's civil rights?

Or will these pilots concoct a rationalization that "stop and frisk" policies are okay for black and brown people--because "we" all know they are "guilty" of something--and are offensive only because harassment of upper class white people by the federal government is breaking a cultural norm that nurtures and protects white male privilege at any cost?

Originally posted to chaunceydevega on Tue May 28, 2013 at 09:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by Trial Watch.

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