Flying while brown might start to get even more difficult, thanks to the heavy-handed tactics of Southwest Airlines and local law enforcement.
On a flight departing Baltimore on September 26, 2017, passenger Anila Daulatzai was forcibly removed from a Southwest Airlines plane by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
Southwest staff insisted that Daulatzai deplane her flight because of a dog allergy—even though she had made it clear that her allergies were not life-threatening. Instead of believing Daulatzai’s own statements about her physical condition, Southwest Airlines escalated the situation by alerting the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MDTA), who forcibly removed her from her seat and dragged her out of the plane.
According to Daulatzai, MDTA agents pulled her from her seat via her belt loop, tore her pants, and dragged her through the aisle. They then allegedly made racist remarks about immigrants and gave her an exorbitant list of charges: resisting or interfering with arrest; disorderly conduct; disturbing the peace; obstructing or hindering an officer; and failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order.
The use of force on Ms. Daulatzai by law enforcement was excessive and unnecessary, as was the filing of criminal charges against her. These heavy-handed and punitive tactics send a dangerous message that airlines and law enforcement can continue to discriminate against our communities, with no recourse.
In October, over 30 national and local civil rights organizations including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), and MPower Change, sent a letter to Southwest Airlines expressing our outrage at the mistreatment of Anila Daulatzai by Southwest staff.
The airline's response to our letter was an unacceptable doubling-down on the justification of their abusive behavior. Now, Ms. Daulatzai will face trial in early 2018—and if these trumped up charges go through, it will only serve as an endorsement of Southwest and other airlines' harsh treatment of passengers from certain backgrounds.
Communities of color unfortunately endure profiling at airports and on airlines on a regular basis. In fact, Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Sikh passengers have experienced a disproportionately high level of discrimination in the 16 years since September 11, 2001. “Flying while brown” means that passengers are often subjected to secondary screenings, interrogations, bodily searches, and removal from airplanes for no legitimate reason at all.
Southwest has been particularly egregious in their treatment of Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Sikh passengers. Over the last year, SAALT and MPower Change have documented at least six incidents of unwarranted passenger removals on Southwest Airlines alone.
Allowing criminal charges against Ms. Daulatzai to proceed sets a dangerous precedent, which will allow private airlines to discriminate against our communities with no recourse. There is little oversight and accountability over private airlines and their protocols for responding to passenger-related situations aboard flights, including their trainings and practices around de-escalation and mediation.
Airlines must face the consequences of their discriminatory practices, not innocent passengers such as Ms. Daulatzai.
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1. "Statement on behalf of Southwest Airlines Passenger Anila Daulatzai," Hall & Sethi, PLC, Oct 4, 2017