Broader implications of the Kansas City shooting — what's the maximum time that one is allowed to imitate an ostrich?

It’s now 32 days into 45th’s tenuous tenure, and 107 days since November 9, 2016. In those 107 days he has mobilized swaths of American voters (and those who did not vote, and those who were not eligible to vote) in an unprecedented manner. Thankfully, said swaths are large enough that the individual shock and exhaustion from being constantly alert and fighting back is absorbed by collective action. Also, thankfully, there are those who are able to dedicate every waking moment to fighting back.

There have been so many stories whirling around about the blatant disregard of civility towards minorities ever since the outcome of the election. Each story is as distressing and infuriating as the next one. What is more, the level of atrocities are clearly escalating with impunity — perpetrators have unleashed a degree of hate and violence that flies in the face of hope and inclusiveness. With the reporting of each instance of atrocity, and with each new policy that we hear of from 45 et al., there is a new wave of frustration, anger and despair. But also an increasing determination to fight and set things right.

On Wednesday there was the deadly shooting in Kansas City which left one dead and two wounded at a bar. The gunman reportedly shouted “get out of my country” before he opened fire on two young Indian men who were upstanding, contributing members of society. What was the only heartening thing in this barbaric incident was that another patron at the bar intervened at his peril, and was able to overpower the shooter who then escaped to Missouri. This incident brought to mind how close I could be to having something similar happen to someone I know, and reminded me of my son’s experience barely a month after the 2016 election; and how important it is for each of us to stand up against injustice.

The Adirondack is a wonderful Amtrak train that operates daily between New York’s Penn Station (NYP)and Montreal (MTR), Canada. By all accounts, the ten hour route is one of the more scenic train routes in north America. Once the train sets off from Montreal, about an hour and a half later it stops at Rouses Point, NY — the US-Canada border crossing point. US border agents board the train and typically walk through to check all passengers’ documents. My son who was born in Connecticut and is a college student in Montreal, has taken this train several times without incident. But six weeks after the election when he was coming home for the winter break, it was a little different.

After handing over his US passport, my son was asked if he’d been out of the US in the last year. Upon learning he’d returned from India on January 4, 2016, the officer held on to the passport and said, “Okay, bring your stuff and follow me.” They walked to the dining car where there were other border agents/immigration officers and other passengers. Most of the passengers’ cases were reviewed and dispensed with quickly.

During the time my son waited for his turn, he got talking to another passenger, also waiting. He was a history professor from Denmark and mentioned that this was going to be his first visit to the US. The Danish professor was interviewed ahead of my son. With no apparent attempts to keep the volume down, my son was witness to an exchange which certainly did not represent the US very well, and went something like this —

Officer: Where are you coming from?
Prof: Copenhagen.
Officer: Are we there?
Prof (confused): That’s in Denmark…
Officer: I know, we do have outposts in some countries…Why are you coming to the US? (As it happens, US Customs and Border preclearance operations exist only in one country in Europe — Ireland; other locations include some points in Canada, Bahamas, Bermuda, Aruba, and the United Arab Emirates)
Prof: To visit my girlfriend in NY.
Officer: You haven’t got a stamp on your passport.
Prof: Stamp? I didn’t know I needed one.
Officer: Yes you do, and it costs $6.
Prof: I don’t have any dollars— do you take VISA?
Officer: No. How can you come to the US without dollars? Why don’t you go make a friend and see if you can get $6!

Needless to say, the Dane was flummoxed and proceeded to take out a €20 bill and ask passengers if they’d give him $20 for €20. Finally a passenger offered $10 for the €20, which was then handed to the border agent and with his $4 change and stamped passport in hand, he tiredly went back to his seat.

When he left, the officers were clearly imitating his accent and ridiculing him. Not only was that immature and unprofessional, but as the first official representatives of the US, they certainly didn’t conduct themselves very well.

My son was one of the last few passengers left to be interviewed and could hear the officers ask each other “who’s going to handle that one?” while pointing to his passport on the table, and speaking as if he couldn’t hear/understand them. Finally an officer came up to him with a binder and signaled to my son and proceeded to interview him along these lines —

Officer: Okay, let’s see what we have here. So, where are you going?
Son: Home for the holidays.
Officer: From where?
Son: From Montreal — I go to school in Montreal.
Officer hands a paper and pen while continuing to ask questions and indicates what needs to be written on that paper.
Officer: Write down the names of your parents and siblings, and their citizenship. Other than India, where did you go?
Son: Do you mean including layovers?
Officer: Yes.
Son: Well, we had a layover in Turkey.
Officer: Where?
Son: Istanbul.
Officer: Did you go into the city?
Son: No, it was a layover.
Officer: Write down your email address, FaceBook, Snapchat and Instagram information, and also include your iphone password.

There was more to the interview, but this was the general tone of it. Not overtly hostile, yet sufficiently intimidating.

While none of what transpired on the train was outside the realms of what is permissible by a broad interpretation of current laws, it is certainly disconcerting, if not worse. The ACLU site states “U.S. citizens cannot be denied entry to the United States for refusing to provide passwords or unlock devices, but refusal to do so might lead to delay, lengthy questioning, and/or officers seizing your device for further inspection,” and as we have seen in a number of recent instances, passengers are often unsure of what their rights are and simply want to get going on their journey.

What is equally disconcerting is that similar border checks occurred even before November 9, 2016, but did not receive the kind of wide press they do today. I suspect this is because the overall political climate is becoming increasingly overtly oppressive. Thanks to the judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals thwarting the 45th president’s attempt to reinstate the previously imposed travel ban, his team has been working to craft an executive order that they hope will not be contestable. But, as even bad high school kids know, anything can be contested and we need to speak out and share our stories so that we can pile up the evidence in support of our rights.

It’s a myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when they’re threatened, and even kids know that — what they’re doing is digging holes as nests to incubate their eggs that take 42 days to hatch. So taking a break from protesting the ongoing atrocities is alright, you won’t be burying your head in the sand — you’re simply incubating and getting stronger for the next fight. Stay strong and be an ostrich (egg) for a bit if you need to, it’s a long road ahead.

Deepti is a scientist & now, a research analyst at Yale University. She runs Tilde Cafe, a forum to demystify science & make it accessible (