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Issue #1644      June 25, 2014

A true police state

On March 5, 2014, I was detained at Detroit airport, just before I was to board the plane. “I will decide if you will go on this plane or not,” shouted a US custom official with a stress on “I”, while keeping an eye on a young female official, perhaps in his continual attempt to impress her. In an instance I was reminded that I was in a warped space in “the land of the free” where the rule of law or even the rules of nature did not operate. Four “invincible and immortal” custom officials of the States [often spoken with stress and extreme tribal-pride] were to decide what was right and what was wrong.

Three men and one woman – men with bulging bodies, a likely result of too much steroid abuse, shaved heads, and heavily-scarred faces, perhaps a result to having abused many in foreign countries or in Detroit ghettoes – kept an eye on me. Thinking that I would not hear his murmuring, one male-officer asked another, “Would you stir him or shake him?

“Keep your hands outside your pocket,” he shouted again, when my hands were nowhere close to my pocket and I had just been through TSA’s security.

I was not visiting the US. I was merely transiting on my way to Nagoya (Japan) from Toronto (Canada). Elsewhere in the world, I would have taken the transfer un-accosted, without any security check, and without a need to talk with anyone. In such a situation, even in the most corrupt country, I would not have been mistreated, for they gain nothing by treating a guest-in-transit badly.

I was among the last people to go to line up to board. Unless I have too much cabin luggage, I see no reason why I should crowd-around impatiently to enter the plane.

My heart aches to see how quickly, since 9/11, Americans have given up their freedoms. If Bin Laden really hated the freedoms of Americans – which I seriously doubt was the case – he has won an unambiguous victory.

I approach customs stoically. My tone and conduct tells them that I am not going to either engage or escalate the situation. I keep myself brief and mostly very cold. Those officers who are on an ego trip very quickly recognise that I am not of much use to them. The good ones – if there are any – know they have nothing to engage with me about. In general, my approach works the best. I mostly avoid hassles with them.

So, why was I detained?

They asked me how much cash I had. I told them it was around US$2,000, without any expression on my face, indeed without flattery and grovelling conduct they had got from virtually everyone before me. They kept on asking me personal questions, hoping to scare me. Then they asked me to sign a document on which they asked me to write exactly how much cash I had. Perhaps this was their spineless way to entrap me hoping to find a cent extra. I told them that I had about 20 different currencies and they would need to provide exchange rates to come up with an exact figure. The guy who had been shouting like a moron found my response to go against the impression he was trying to give his subordinates.

One of them picked up one of my bags and another one the other – as thieves do – and took them to a far corner without asking my permission and started ripping them apart. They now wanted any reason, however vague, to stop me from taking my plane.

They finally stumbled on my blank personal checks, which now according to them accounted towards the $10,000 upper limit of cash that I could carry with me. I was asked to explain how much cash I had in my bank accounts. The consequence of this is far reaching if taken to its logical conclusion: You should be able to show your net worth when passing through an American airport. This is a true police state.

For 30 minutes, the Delta’s Boeing 747 bound for Nagoya waited for me, with the air hostesses lined up at the gate, frustratingly waiting for me. I had checked-in luggage, which meant that the flight could not go without me.

So, how should one conduct oneself when passing through an American airport?

Information Clearing House

Next article – To prison for poverty

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