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The Price of Fearmongering: Nearly Killing Kids With Blinky Shirts

If you think that the Chicken Little attempts by people like self-proclaimed “terrorism expert” Juval Aviv and Senator Trent “A Bomb for DC in August” Lott to freak the American people out with their bullshit bomb scares are inconsequential and harmless, consider the case of 19 year old MIT student Star Simpson.

Star Simpson Decorative Gadget

Here’s the little gadget Star Simpson wore: a little board to hold an electrical circuit in place, a handful of green lights, and a 9 volt battery to makes the lights blink. She wore it on her shirt as a geeky decoration for MIT’s Career Day, then went to an airport counter in Boston to ask when her boyfriend’s flight would be coming in. The airport counter person asked her what it was. Simpson told her it was a piece of art. After Simpson stepped out to the curb, the airport counter person called in a team of officers who surrounded Simpson with submachine guns.

“She was immediately told to stop, to raise her hands and not to make any movement, so we could observe all her movements to see if she was trying to trip any type of device,” State Police Major Scott Pare said. “Had she not followed the protocol, we might have used deadly force. She’s lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue.”

All this for wearing a little gadget that makes lights blink on your shirt.

What was Simpson’s crime? The District Attorney in the case put it well:

a total disregard to understand the context of the situation she is in, which is an airport of post-9/11

That’s right. Star Simpson failed to follow the script of post-9-11 freakout America, and so she was nearly killed and tossed in jail … for wearing a harmless blinky shirt. That’s the price of fearmongers like Juval Aviv and Trent Lott.

13 thoughts on “The Price of Fearmongering: Nearly Killing Kids With Blinky Shirts”

  1. Luke says:

    What really scares me about this piece is the quote from officer Scott Pare. He basically accepts as okay that his men were so keyed up and ready to shoot, and that a small movement or two would have been enough to shoot her. This is seen and praised in the accounts I have read as good tactics by police officers confronting supposedly threatening people in airports.
    It also makes me wonder if the police would have hesitated as long if the person had not been a young female.

  2. Vynce says:

    The thing that pisses me off is that the media has been reporting it as a “fake bomb” when there’s no evidence to suggest that it was ever meant to be taken for a bomb. I mean, all I can see on it is a breadboard, a nine-volt, some common LEDs and office tape. Is scotch tape an explosive? Are Duracells what Hollywood’s using these days to represent C4? C’mon Star, if that’s supposed to look like a bomb, you get a D-.

    Shall i start accusing weathermen of launching “fake extra terrestrial objects” and saying they should stop their ridiculus fueling of the UFO paranoiacs? I really wish George W. Bush would stop making that fake monkey-face; I find it insulting and disrespectful of his office. His petulant school-child routine is getting old, too — we get it, W. You can still whine at your age, just as well as your “no more broccoli” dad. Move on.

    And Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his fake English accent — affected, no doubt, because Americans always think Brits are more educated — but it doesn’t even sound English! it sounds Austrian! (an American confusing an Australian accent with an English one I can understand, but Austria is completely different.) Cut out the fake accent, Arnie. It’s not helping anyone.

    Crap, I gotta go. There’s a kid outside with a fake gun fashioned from a banana, and he… he appears to be threatening suicide with it. Oh, my gods, it’s aimed right at his face. I’m calling 911 before he bites the big one.

  3. Joseph Dunphy says:

    “What really scares me about this piece is the quote from officer Scott Pare.”

    What really scares me about the incident is how many people were eager to defend that quote and basically cover their ears and scream “I’m not listening” when confronted with the facts. “There’s no one look for a bomb” is a mantra I heard repeated over and over, those exact words, suggesting that somebody has gotten the groupthink going. “How would you know that she didn’t have something hidden under her shirt” was a counterargument I got to see one blogger offer.

    Fascinating logic from these people. So I guess if Simpson was eating a baguette when she came to pick up her boyfriend, that pulling a machine gun on her would be appropriate because how would one known that she didn’t have a tiny hand grenade hidden in it, and should she have known better than to make people feel scared like that? This country has gone completely insane, and it’s not an amusing brand of insanity that it’s embracing. Thank you, guys, for being among the few who haven’t gone along with the herd.

  4. Luke says:

    Unfortunately I have to agree with you, Joseph, that far too many people in this country have lost their touch with rationality and reason. I have read recent news accounts of people “requesting” that toy stores stop selling squirt guns, schools disciplining students for necklace or bracelet pendants that are shaped like guns, the prosecutor in the Jena 6 assault case claiming that tennis shoes are deadly weapons, and many other absurdities. I also had a conversation with a woman on Sean Hannities forum who claimed that a protestor holding a cardboard gun represented a threat, and that he should have been arrested. These people confuse symbols with the object symbolized, and I am reasonably certain that their thinking is equally flawed in other areas.
    In the case of Miss Simpson; I can vouch that I have seen other people wear flashing circuitry boards as part of their fashion statement, I have seen these incorporated as parts of t-shirts and jackets.
    On the other hand I recognize that it could be potentially very difficult on the part of an airport worker to decide what is suspicious and what is not; what suggestions would any readers have about guidelines?
    In this quote “A Massachusetts Port Authority staffer manning an information booth in the terminal became suspicious when Simpson – wearing the device – approached to ask about an incoming flight, Pare said. Simpson then walked outside, and the staffer notified a nearby trooper. The trooper, joined by others with submachine guns, confronted her in front of the terminal” I wonder what the context is? I ask what I would have done, and I have to say that I do not know what I would have done if I was the first staffer to notice the device; but if I was the trooper I definitely would not have approached her with guns armed and ready to shoot. Is this what they are trained to do in those circumstances? Or could the officer have chosen to approach Miss Simpson and politely request to see the object?
    Why did they automatically leap to the idea that she was a suicide bomber? I presume that she was calmly asking for info from the first staffer, but could Miss Simpson have been acting worried, or keyed up in another way to make the staffer overeact, and then the staffer causing the cop to overeact?

  5. Luke says:

    edit overeact to overreact

  6. Luke says:

    Assuming for a moment that she was an actual suicide bomber; wouldn’t an approaching number of policemen with submachine guns be a good time to set the bomb off? Did the officers first subtly clear people away from the area to try and prevent alerting her? I would assume again that the Office of Homeland security has standardized protocol for this, but I really don’t know; and if they do, did the officers follow the protocol? That would be the real news story for me.

  7. Iroquois says:

    I was out in the yard the other day when the neighbor’s kid started to light up and glow. It was a Spiderman t-shirt and apparently the lighting up thing was integral to the shirt, which had a thick plasticky area in the front. I was startled.

    I wouldn’t wear something like that to an airport these days, not with everyone all nervous. At the very least, people are not going to go out of their way to help you accomplish your objectives, since you just made their job harder.

    Part of the solution is to take the decision making out of the hands of security. After all, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  8. F.G. Fitzer says:

    Yes, let’s all change our clothes for Osama Bin Laden!

    No more Spiderman t-shirts allowed!

    That’ll stop a terrorist attack!

  9. Luke says:

    Well, F.G, it does not seem to me that Iroquois is saying that at all; I take from what she wrote that she is asking people to consider what they wear, especially flashing lights and circuitry when in a secure environment.
    I think that its reasonable to ask them that, but what if they don’t? In the case of Miss Simpson, whether she was naive, or uninformed, or careless, or just stupid, or perhaps even being provocative to make an artistic point; she did wear something that police interpreted to be a bomb, in an airport.
    I was wondering why any actual suicide bomber would draw attention to themselves by having flashing lights, when I would think that the whole point would be to remain anonomyous until they thought they had a suitable number of people to kill around them. This clearly did not occur to the police.

  10. Luke says:

    Or I should say, it may have occurred to them, but if so they dismissed it and acted in a way that I think escalated the situation needlessly.

  11. F.G. Fitzer says:

    Why should I consider whether I am wearing a Spiderman t-shirt for the sake of Homeland Security, to prevent myself from being shot?

    If I can be shot for wearing a Spiderman t-shirt, the fault is that of Homeland Security, not me.

  12. Luke says:

    In the case of a Spiderman tshirt, I absolutely agree with you. In the case of a hoodie, with lights and circuitry; I don’t know. I don’t think it was good judgement on her part. I clearly do not think she should be shot, or that the police acted correctly. I also do not think she should be charged with a crime for wearing a “hoax device”.
    That brings me back to what the policy is, and did the police enact it properly.

  13. Iroquois says:

    Okay, I read the link and here’s where the problems are:

    1) some person at an information desk with absolutely no judgment, and who isn’t getting paid to have judgment, had the power to call a full fledged security alert capable of annihilating some overprotected Hawaiian boarding school kid. The protocol should have been for her to call a management type person to make the decision, unless someone was holding a gun to her head. We have seen recently two similar tazing situations at campuses when the same thing happened–someone wasn’t sure about some individual and called security. Security has a hammer and thinks everything looks like a nail, so there was an incident, luckily with no loss of life–this time. There needs to be a decision-maker with judgment in between.

    2) Logan Airport.

    If you ever need to fly to Massachusetts, seriously consider using Manchester, New Hampshire airport. That’s what the locals do. No public transportation, you’ll need a rental car or a ride, but well worth it to stay away from Logan.

    Say, worst case, Star’s little toy really was a bomb. So you encircle the person with machine guns right on the curb where buses and various types of rental car company transport go by every few minutes? Maybe have a shootout in a very busy public place? Idiots. But that’s Logan.

    And no, this device is not something I would personally wear in an airport. Yes, it could be a bomb device in a late night B-movie. I had a couple electronics courses, but how do I know it doesn’t have some rudimentary timing circuitry with those diodes (light-emiting or not) and resisters, and anyhow what does plastic explosive look like and what’s on the back?

    Here is hoodie is something bad, I’m not sure what, but some people regard it as some sort of signal.

    I’ve had airport security question me over a camera flash device, a battery operated alarm clock, and a bottle of wine with a cloth stopper to prevent explosion at altitude, and always my camera which I insist on hand inspection. All I had to do was demonstrate the devices act like they are supposed to act–flash, snap photo, etc. and drink a little of the wine and security was happy to let me board, in one case only after taking some swab sample of my shoe. So why couldn’t those Logan idiots ask Star to demonstrate her little contraption?

    I have also always tucked any t-shirts with Arabic script in the bottom of the checked luggage. I try to look like a business traveler when I fly, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t look like tourists.

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