What was supposed to be a basic welcome greeting and pickup at the airport turned into an arrest, a police record, ten months of persecution, and one year of probation. This all resulted because of the attire the greeter wore to the airport. The greeter did not try to board a plane. The greeter was not roaming around any high security areas. The greeter had not exhibited any threatening behaviors towards anyone. As a matter of fact, the greeter had missed the arrival of their party, exited the airport, and was waiting to board public transportation to return home.
The only contact the greeter had with any one in the airport was an information agent for whom English was a second language. This resulted in some miscommunication. The outcome was a day that Star Simpson, a 19 year old Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sophomore, at that time, will never for get. For wearing a circuit board wired to a bunch of lights and carrying a little plastic flower, both of which were in plain view, within Logan International Airport, Star was arrested at gunpoint and charged with disturbing the peace and possessing a hoax device. A native of Hawaii, of mixed ancestry, she was tagged as the Boston Logan Terrorist Suicide Bomber by the national media. Additionally she was disowned by MIT, subjected to hours of interrogation and detention, and her parents, dorm mates, and close friends lives were disrupted by investigators.
The homemade, nerdy sweatshirt was a last second clothing decision as Star raced out of her dorm room to get to the airport. She over slept because she had spent the entire night studying. Selected as a sort of tribute to the arriving friend’s shared knowledge, she thought it would make him smile. The excitable information agent did not smile. The Boston State Police did not smile. ” Its art, decorations, its just a bunch of LED lights and wires attached to a battery…I made it myself”, confessions were not sufficient. Even after turning the sweatshirt and flower over to the State Police bomb squad for evaluation and their admission that of it was totally harmlessness, the ordeal continued.
Star’s dorm, favorite hangouts, and even MIT’s machine shop were under constant surveillance. She was shunned by MIT students, area residents, and even spit on. She had to refuse a speaking engagement before the International Symposium of Wearable Computers convention. It was held at the Hyatt hotel in Logan International Airport and her trial judge ban her from visiting any MassPort property. A quote from State Police Major Scott Pare, during a press conference sums up just how important your outward appeal choice is; “Thankfully because she followed our instructions, she ended up in our cell instead of a morgue.”
Did Boston’s State Police over react? Was Star Simpson’s appeal that much of a threat? Was it right for the Boston media to release her name and other personal information before she was arraigned and charged with a crime? Did Star’s minority female status have anything to do with the treatment she received? 10 months of court proceedings, 50 hours of community service, one year of probations, and a public apology to the people who almost shot her because of LED lights on a sweatshirt later…Star believes they definitely over reacted.
The hoax device charge was dropped. The disturbing the peace charge still stands. The law reads the state does not have to prove intent, only that the behavior was disorderly. Star pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge to end the ordeal. Was she guilty of anything? Were her actions disorderly or were it the actions of the Boston State Police? In this post 9/11 era are all American’s suspects? Have we become the new enemy of the state? If Star Simpson’s treatment is an indicator, what does the future hold? Take this as an indication. Be careful what you wear to the airport.