Being Brown In America

The seizure (and subsequent release) of activist Cindy Sheehan and the ejection of a congressperson's wife during Bush's State of the Union address have made headlines recently. But the following item is just now starting to gather steam. Time reports:

But on the same evening that President Bush was lauding democracy and freedom, there was one other person in attendance whose rights were infringed upon. The man, who did not want his identity revealed after the disturbing incident, was a personal guest of Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings. He is a prominent businessman from Broward County, Florida who works with the Department of Defense-and has a security clearance. After sitting in the gallery for the entire speech, he was surrounded by about ten law enforcement officers as he exited the chamber and whisked away to a room in the Capitol.

For close to an hour the man, who was born in India but is an American citizen, was questioned by the Police, who thought he resembled someone on a Secret Service photo watch list, according to Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer. Eventually, the police realized it was a case of mistaken identity and let him go. Gainer has assured Hastings that the Capitol Police, Secret Service and FBI will investigate why the man was detained for so long, and try to "sharpen our procedures." But the man was "very, very scared" by the incident, says Fred Turner, a spokesperson for Hastings. On Tuesday night, he told the congressman that the experience was "maybe just the price of being brown in America," Turner says.

"He shouldn't have gone through the ringer as long as he did," Gainer says. "He did get caught up in the morass of Secret Service FBI, Capitol Police. Everybody was trying to figure out whether he was a threat. And he absolutely, unequivocally clearly was not." Gainer apologized to the man afterwards, only one of the many apologies he has had to make this week.

Great - the shoot first, apologize afterwards policy that worked so well in stopping that brown skinned UK bomber is starting to take hold here too. If you remember:

Electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead on 22 July, 2005, by police who mistook him for one of four would-be suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system the previous day.


But when it emerged that the 27-year-old Brazilian was not the man they thought he was - and that his death had been a mistake - Sir Ian described it as a tragedy for which the police accepted full responsibility.

If nothing else, this should come as a rude reminder to the desis here who think they have nothing in common with Latinos or African Americans or Arab Americans. However, as this eloquent comment on dailykos by user Sanjay illustrates, more and more folks are waking up.:

I have lived in the United States for 21 years and have been a citizen for the last 8 years. I recently returned from one of my regular trips to India, my country of origin. As I was chatting with an old high school friend about nothing in particular, he suggested that may be I should think about purchasing some property in India. Out of curiosity I asked him why. And he said (paraphrasing) - well, even though the U.S. welcomes everyone and is an immmigrant-friendly country, I find some recent news disturbing and who knows when you might get kicked out or life made so difficult for you that you may have to leave. If that happens, you can always come back here.

I was aghast. Never before had I thought of this, never before had I imagined that political or social circumstances would force me out of the country. I just looked at him in shock for a few seconds and mumbled - ok, I'll think about it.

Are my friend's worst fears going to come true in the next decade? or two? Forget about me, what might happen to my young children, who happen to be like me, brown?

Gotta go - the black car with tinted windows that's parked outside is blocking my driveway.

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- February 5, 2006 11:35 AM // Politics