Aviation securityTSA accused of racial profiling at Boston airport

Published 15 August 2012

The Transportation Security Administration(TSA) has been accused of widespread racial profiling in its new initiative to flag potential terrorist threats at Logan International Airport in Boston; reports say that more than thirty federal officers involved in the Behavior Detection Program said the operation targets Black and Hispanic people as well as people of Middle Eastern descent

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been accused of widespread racial profiling in its new initiative to flag potential terrorist threats at Logan International Airport in Boston.

According to a report by the New York Times, more than thirty federal officers involved in the Behavior Detection Program said the operation targets Black and Hispanic people as well as people of Middle Eastern descent.

The claims come at a bad time for the air security chiefs, who have been praising the initiative as a model for transportation hubs across the United States. Also,the Guardian reports that  Obama administrationhas criticized the use of racial profiling by law enforcement authorities in Arizona and other states. The airport travel industry more generally has had a bad summer so far, especially with the news that three planes came within 1000 feet of each other in the air two weeks ago.

Under the behavior detection initiative, specially trained “assessors” monitor security lines and look people observed to be displaying specific signs such as sweating, avoiding eye contact, nervousness,and fidgeting. The program was brought in to allow officers to stop, search,and question passengers deemed to be exhibiting such behavior.

Passengers who are deemed suspicious are taken away for additional questioning, but the system has led to racial profiling as thirty-two officers have submitted written complaints to the TSA over the targeting of minorities by colleagues.

According to the New York Times report, some of the stop-and-searches were a result of pressure from managers who hoped that it would lead to the discovery of drugs, outstanding warrants,and fraudulent immigration documents.

As a result,assessors have been looking for people who fit certain profiles, such as Hispanics traveling to Miami and Black people wearing backwards hats, or a lot of jewelry.

One passenger,Kenneth Boatner, a black psychologist and educational consultant, was detained for nearly half an hour while attempting to travel to Atlanta on business last month. Boatner had his belongings examined, including his patients clinical notes.

Boatner told the Times in an interview that he felt humiliated and that the officers never explained to him why he was being detained, but he suspected that his race and the clothing he was wearing had a lot to do with it. At the time Boatner was wearing sweat pants, a white T-shirt,and basketball shoes.

I had never been subjected to anything like that,” Boatner told the Times

One reason that the government as well as other organizations can make these claims is that there are currently no statistics on how often people at Logan are stopped, what race those people are, and how often the people who are stopped have a criminal history or warrants. Records providing these statistics could help the TSA fight claims of racial profiling. 

The TSA said in a statement that the program at Logan “In no way encourages or tolerates profiling” and that passengers are not allowed to be pulled aside based on nationality, race, ethnicity or religion.

If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity.” the agency added.

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