Profiled on Re-Entry

Profiling, racial or otherwise, is something most people have experienced. I don’t know why, but up until re-entering the United States, I had never been profiled, to the best of my knowledge. Unless you have been subjected to profiling it is difficult to be empathetic to those who have. I would even go as far as saying that I found profiling hard to believe. And then on Sunday, while coming back into the country from Ecuador, I was profiled as a potential drug dealer or person of nefarious dealings by the customs officer I encountered while at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Now, let me give you a little background about myself. First of all, I have a sensational sense of humor and I am as laid back as they get. I am a fifty-year-old publishing entrepreneur. I have never dealt drugs or been arrested for anything other than driving under suspension when I was in my early twenties. I am very respectful to law enforcement because that is the way I was brought up. I actually think most police officers are good and take the job to serve and protect. On the other hand, there are those who will flex what little power they have to the greatest extent possible. But, as Lord John Dalberg-Acton pointed out “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you add the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.” This was certainly my experience with this particular customs officer.
Before you jump to a hasty retort and say, “but these guys have a difficult job, blah, blah, blah…”, understand that I agree. There is NO profile for a drug dealer these days. I recently read an article about a lady in her late seventies (someone’s grandmother) getting busted with several pounds of cocaine in her possession. And to make matters worse, there was recently a shooting at this particular airport. So, I understand and I am willing to be more flexible because of the nature of the world we live in. That said, Joichi Ito points out, “if we destroy human rights and rule of law in the response to terrorism, they have won.” And, because of the way I was treated while coming back into my country of birth, I am afraid, they [terrorists and their ilk] have, indeed, won.
There is no reason whatsoever, for anyone, anytime, regardless of their position or station in life, to be disrespectful to another person. I find disrespect to be one of the most grievous of attitudes and I have zero tolerance for it. If you want to immediately “throw-down” with me let me witness you being disrespectful to another person. I guarantee you will hear from me about it in a very respectfully, disrespectful way. As Samuel Johnson pointed out, “When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.”
So here is the way the interaction went. Understand that it is hard to illustrate the utter contempt and disrespect this officer had toward me. I have been in sales for 30+ years and I have learned to “read” people better than most. I have been told that I can “sense” what people are feeling and I will tell you that if I had given this guy one millimeter of room to arrest me, he would have done it. Luckily, I had my wits about me, was a little tired, and so utterly shocked by his behavior, I couldn’t respond in any way but, respectfully.
Me – “How’s it going today?”
Him (in a WAY too serious manner) – “Where are you returning from?” (as if he didn’t know)
Me- “Ecuador.”
Him – “How long were you there?” (Again, as if he didn’t know).
Me – “A little over two years.”
Him – “What were you doing there?”
Me – “Visiting.”
Him – “Visiting who?”
Me – “No one in particular.”
Him – (Getting very snarky and sarcastic now) – “So you don’t have any friends or relatives in Ecuador?”
Me – “I do now, but not when I arrived.”
Him – “So you just woke up one day and decided to go to Ecuador?”
Me – “In a nutshell.”
Him – “And your wife was OK with you being gone for 2 years?” (proving he had more information about me than he was letting on.)
Me – “Yep.”
Him – “How did you afford living there? Did you have a job or something?”
Me – “I own a business in the US.”
Him – “Doing what?”
Me – (at this point I felt like saying why don’t you just look in the computer, but decided being a smart ass may not work in my favor as he was already about to “flip his lid”) I publish magazines and newspapers.
Him – “Really?”
Me – “Yes, really.”
Him – “What is the name of your company.”
Me – “Asheboro and More Marketing, Inc.”
Him – “OK”, as if he was just fed up with me altogether.
He stamped my passport and, because I obviously didn’t give him the answers he was looking for, he gave me a sheet of paper that required me to have my luggage inspected. I guess this was his way of retaliating against me for doing whatever it is I did.
I got my luggage and headed over to the room where the luggage inspections take place. The guy in this room was obviously the “good cop”.
Him – (very politely, almost jovially) – “put your bags on the conveyer belt, please.”
Me- “OK” (I load my bags onto the conveyer belt).
Him – “Do you have anything to declare?”
Me – “Nothing that is on the list, but I do have 30 packages of flavored Tang and 2 containers of dish detergent in my bags”.
Him – “Tang, like the drink?”
Me – “Yep. They don’t have flavored Tang in the US and my wife loves it.”
Him – “Really?”
Me – “Really.”
Him – “So how did you afford to live in Ecuador for 2 years.”
At this point I am starting to understand that they are suspecting me of doing something illicit.
Me – “I own a magazine and newspaper publishing company”.
Him – “What is the name of your company”.
Me – “Asheboro and More Marketing, Inc., doing business as Positive Community Magazines.
Him – “What state is that in.”
Me – “North Carolina.”
Him – “OK, just a minute.” He leaves me there and disappears for 10 minutes.
He returns with a piece of paper and a pen.
Him – “Could you write down the name of your business for me, please”
While I am writing down the name of my business a lady in uniform and a drug dog come in. The drug dog, a black Labrador retriever, takes a couple of sniffs of my luggage and is obviously NOT interested in sniffing them anymore. If he could talk, he certainly would have said “C’mon…really? I have better things to do like lick my nuts”. The expression on his face was priceless. So the lady tips my luggage over and has him sniff it some more. At this point, the dog is obviously very put out. I half way expected him to pee on her leg. Instead, he just laid down.
She – “You can pick up your bags now.”
Me – (I so wanted to say, you are the one that tipped them over…you pick them up, but I decided that might not be a great idea). “Thank you”, I said. The dog gave me a glance as if to say “Sorry dude…I was just doing my job”. So I gave him a little head nudge back to say “it’s cool.” There are benefits to being a dog whisperer.
By this time, the “Good Cop” had returned, he handed me my passport and said “You are good to go.”
While I wanted to thank him for wasting 30 minutes of my life, I decided the prudent thing to do would be to say, “Thank you, sir…have a great day.”
In the big spectrum of things, this may not seem like profiling or poor treatment. Of course that is what “they” want us to believe. The reality is, I was treated very disrespectfully and by dismissing this incident as “business as usual” or in any way acceptable, we allow our constitutional rights to be stripped from us. And, if you believe that what these officers are doing is OK because they are protecting us from the evils of society, let me remind you of a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

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