Monday, January 28, 2008

Thoughts on an Odd Case of Alleged Teen Terror

An arrest last week in Nashville of a 16 year old boy from California has left me pondering many questions. Headlines and TV reports across the country said the teen, flying on Southwest Airlines, was "foiled" in a "botched hijacking" attempt of the airline. Some seriously mistaken reports claimed the teen was going to make the plane crash into a Hannah Montana concert - even though the teen was flying on a Tuesday and the concert in Louisiana was on Saturday. So short of some astonishing time-travel, Hannah was never in danger.

The press reported the teen was in possession of three items, none banned on planes, to effect the "hijack" - a pair of handcuffs, some duct tape and some yarn. The yarn was first reported to be rope, but it was just yarn. Also curious were claims the teen had a "mock cockpit" in his home in California, but no, it was "a photograph of the inside of a small airplane" according to Nashville prosecutor Jon Seaborg.

On Friday, a Nashville judge charged the teen with "juvenile misconduct' and he was sent home - and home is apparently in a small suburb of San Francisco, called Novato.

The Novato Advance reported:

It could have been interpreted as harmless or a joke, but it still (is) something we have to take seriously. Whether anything could realistically be carried out is irrelevant," Seaborg said in a prepared statement Friday afternoon."

(Perhaps I should ask for some follow-up on this story from Brittney Gilbert, who is now working as a blogger for KPIX in San Fran.)

Anyway, the reports all sort of indicated that the FBI and the TSA had varying accounts of the incident. And let's say the teen did have some actual plan involving handcuffs, yarn and tape. But he apparently took no overt action, so it's pretty tough to imagine how he might have sought to use the items. I was glad to read the judge in Nashville drop charges significantly and send the boy home.

The reporting sure seems a bit hysterical but it does indicate something afoot in the minds of law enforcement - that something you might be thinking about could be a cause for arrest. And that idea has been bugging me since I read about it.

When discussing the incident with some friends, we decided that it takes very little to cause massive leaps in logic to label actions as a threat of terrorism or some other nefarious act of mass destruction. It's as if there is a persistent belief that any one among us could be mere moments away for an act of horrifying destruction.

It's the all or nothing days, as if we live in the most fragile realities and the stakes are higher than a world series of Texas Hold 'Em.

Many times in recent weeks and months, I've read local online news accounts of a wide range of alleged criminal acts and it seems the comments on such reports from the general public take about a nanosecond to decide that the suspect involved should be publicly tortured or maybe just given a hanging or other types of fierce punishments. The thought I am left with most after encountering such items is that the dubiously empowered "court of public opinion" has much in common with the ignorant and superstitious purges of a medieval-era of madness.

Our ready-made suspicions make it difficult to identify all the things that are right with the world, and focus instead on nameless dreads and invisible enemies. Blame for every evil is pointed at The Republicans, The Democrats, at Hispanics, at children, at music, at TV and movies, at Anything Even The Tiniest Amount Not-Me.

I'm more than ready to move away from the Monsters On Maple Street neighborhood and return to less fearful times.

How about you?

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