Passengers and TSA agents rushed to drop to the floor as they heard gunshots. Alleged suspect Richard White was going through security when he pulled out a wasp spray and attacked the TSA agents. Then he proceeded to pull out a machete (yes, machete) and swung it at the agents. The reason for his sudden burst of violence is unknown. The police arrived and tried to subdue the man via gunshot. White was shot three times, including once in the face. A TSA agent was shot once in the arm. White was pronounced dead from the injuries Saturday afternoon. [witness footage]
White was discovered to have been carrying molotov cocktails, letter openers, a lighter, and a smoke bomb in his bag. The police found tanks of acetylene, Freon and oxygen in his car trunk. What amazes me is how this man managed to walk through the airport with all that and a machete strapped to his waist. Why was no one suspicious of him? Why wasn’t he taken in for “random searches” (hint: random searches are not random)? Why wasn’t his religion or political affiliations brought up to the stand? The answer seems simple.
For many Muslims and/or brown people, going to an airport can be a stressful and daunting experience, even if we’ve done nothing wrong. In this post-9/11 world, you’re basically guilty until proven innocent. How many times have our fathers and mothers been pulled aside for “random” searches? How many times have we been harassed by TSA agents and treated with disrespect? Even if none of this has happened to you, how many times have you felt apprehensive going through security simply from the nasty stares that you get, from both airport staff and passengers alike? We aren’t afforded the same benefit of doubt.
Even after his rampage, White was described as “disturbed,” “crazed,” “not himself,” and many other descriptors that tried to absolve him of responsibility. His sister said “I believe he became delusional…He just loved to read, and he could share information on just about anything,” White has a criminal history, although minor, but they aren’t being used to character assassinate him.
Let’s take a moment and try to imagine a brown/Muslim person in his place. Off the bat, the machete and and molotov cocktails would’ve been enough to get locked up in Gitmo by now. All news outlets would have been spammed with “ISLAMIC TERRORIST.” Fox News and CNN would have had a ball talking about the criminal history, the dodgy materials in the car trunk, and trying to make some obscure connection to their “Islamic upbringing.”
White was Christian, a denomination that birthed many serial killers and terrorists. He served in the US army, an institution notorious for its trigger-happy soldiers and inhumane acts. None of this was brought up. Given that White is coded as black, there is a layer of antiblackness that will no doubt play into this story. However, the framework of this story is quintessentially what Westerners and white people fear. Airport security, brown/Muslim, weapons. The public would have went crazy at the self-fulfilled prophecy. It’s interesting (read: disheartening) to see how it plays out when the Muslim/brown character is replaced with someone else.
Our prayers go out to those traumatized by this event and the agent who was shot. We pray for the day that criminals, no matter race, religion, and gender are brought to justice.
____________________________________ — Feature image from NBC News
Images from NOLA, Mass Live, Global Grind