Editorials

Safety doesn’t require ethnic profiling

The recent attacks in Paris and the State Department worldwide travel alert have raised security awareness at places like Charlotte Douglas International Airport, above.
The recent attacks in Paris and the State Department worldwide travel alert have raised security awareness at places like Charlotte Douglas International Airport, above. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

As you gather around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, take a moment to give thanks for the loved ones who made it safe and sound. Because, chances are, getting there was quite a nerve-wracking journey.

The attacks in Paris have put everyone on edge, as has alarmist talk from politicians on both sides of the aisle about terrorists posing as Syrian refugees. The nation’s airports and roads are more crowded than any week since the recession. And to make matters worse, the State Department has issued a months-long, worldwide travel alert for all Americans.

In times like these, it’s easy to close ranks around our loved ones to ensure their safety – to blindly give in to fears about our own well-being instead of digging deep to find our selfless, clear-eyed selves. That’s why President Barack Obama sought to reassure Americans on Wednesday, telling them there is no credible terror threat right now.

Two Southwest Airlines flights were delayed last week over incidents that smack of ethnic profiling.

Unfortunately, he had good reason. Two Southwest Airlines flights were delayed last week over incidents that, despite the airline’s assertions about being business as usual, smack of ethnic profiling.

In one case, two Palestinian men were told they couldn’t board in Chicago because a passenger overheard them speaking in Arabic and was afraid to fly with them. The men were eventually allowed on the plane, but passengers remained wary.

In the other case, six men of Middle Eastern descent were removed from a flight, again in Chicago, because they were asking other passengers to switch seats with them so they could all sit together. Those men were put on a later flight.

Admonitions aside, this kind of scenario is likely to play out again and again over the holiday season as nervous Americans heed calls from the Transportation Security Administration to – as a spokesman told The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak – keep their eyes open for anything “out of the ordinary” and report it.

We get it. No one wants to be a victim of terrorism. No one wants to see what happened in Paris or in Mali or in Beirut happen here. But our national character demands more of Americans than to surrender to fear. We’re better than that, as a people. On this day, that’s a reason to be thankful, too.

At our best, Americans know better than to single out people based on their ethnicity and not their actions. We know it because of the scores of innocent American Muslims who got harassed – or worse – in the months after 9/11 and because of the families, many of them in Sacramento, who still bear the scars of Japanese internment camps during World War II.

Let’s conduct ourselves in way that we can be thankful for next year.

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