Was he Central Asian? Was he from the Caucasus? Turkish? Syrian? Persian? Egyptian? I couldn’t figure it out…and usually I can figure that shit out. I have traveled a lot…I have seen and met a lot of people…I am good at figuring where people are from. He wasn’t an ‘Murican that was for sure. Dark hair, not white, not black, not hispanic, not exactly olive-skinned…but definitely not a typical diverse ‘Murican. He was maybe 20. His ball cap and white track suit were Euro Adidas (Aw-dee-daws)…definitely not fashion that was bought here. When I saw him on the subway escalator, descending down toward the orange and blue lines at Metro Center, I immediately recognized that he wasn’t a local. His cautious, but nervous, nature and the black backpack immediately made me suspect. Tsarmaev brothers immediately jumped to mind.
Confused and lost tourists look up…attempting to find some sort signage pointing out where they are or where they want to go. Tourists don’t look down or at other people on the platforms. Tourists don’t scan crowds or look at the floor. Tourist block the paths of others or stop immediately causing the rest of us to jig left or right immediately to keep from running over their stupid asses.
The boy’s tight gripping of the backpack’s strap also seemed out of place. Female tourists from Mayberry have some fear of purse thieves and grip purse straps tightly…but tourist dudes on the metro are oblivious to this threat. This young man definitely did not want the bag taken from him. Everything about him seemed wrong.
After the 3 seconds it took to think all of this, I immediately felt guilty. I was being a racist, I was profiling. I felt ashamed as I continued to watch him across the train platform. He was going west, I was headed east…yet I watched him as my train arrived. I quickly boarded and stood in the door. There was a ding and the door closed. I didn’t move and before he became a blur from the speed of my train, I watched as he boarded his train. For the rest of my ride…ten minutes…I thought about my reactions to him…my thoughts and why I felt guilty. I thought about how I have had training on terrorism…hell I have taught classes on terrorism…I knew that there had to be some foundation in my reaction…yet I questioned my thoughts and actions.
Was I reacting to over a decade of dealing with homeland security issues? Was I finally internalizing all the fucking propaganda that the media and government (which I am part of) spout? Or was I correct and did I really see something I should report?
At my metro stop, I saw a metro police officer in full counter-terrorism regalia…body armor…boots…sidearm…assault rifle…if there was someone to report it to…this was it. I felt myself rooted in place. I didn’t approach the officer, what if I was wrong and by reporting this I was going to fuck up some innocent person’s day. Was it better to be safe than sorry or had I just overreacted? I left the train station and went to work with the image of kid in my head…guilt followed me to my office like a dark cloak of post-9/11 hysteria.
When I got to my office, my phone dinged when one of my best friends posted on Facebook. Seems, on his family’s flight home from vacation, his 15 year-old son’s laptop had been searched by TSA. My friend is of Indian descent and a Muslim but from Maryland, his 15 year-old plays basketball and baseball. His son, as an infant, rested beautifully in my arms when we all lived in Germany working for the US Army. The worst thing TSA may have found on his computer might have been typical ‘Murican teen male internet porn. I was immediately pissed at TSA…my friend’s son had been profiled.
The gods of irony were laughing at me that morning. Ironic moments such as these aren’t comforting…they are painful. I was filled with self-doubt, guilt, and an unsure feeling of “what the fuck was I thinking.” There were no reports of bombings on DC’s metro that day or since. For all I knew, the kid I saw was just visiting or a resident and feeling unsure…maybe he was on his way to class and wasn’t ready…or maybe…he wasn’t acting or doing anything I saw. Maybe I was fucking imagining it all.
I still feel like shit about this…and I am still pissed at TSA.
I’m getting tired of thinking about homeland security.