communication, law, Police, travel

Damned if you do… damned if you don’t…

I still have a ton of travel blogging to do, and I’ll be getting to that in a little while. First, I want to write about a situation I read about this morning.

Last month, white mom, Mary MacCarthy, was traveling with her ten year old biracial daughter, Moira. They were on their way to a funeral in Denver, Colorado. Ms. MacCarthy’s brother died suddenly in October, so MacCarthy had to take a last minute flight from her home in California. MacCarthy is a single mom, and her brother was like a father to Moira. The girl was crying when she was boarding the flight, and the two were initially not able to sit together. MacCarthy asked other passengers if someone would be willing to move so that she and her daughter could be next to each other.

Another passenger was kind enough to oblige, and the pair arrived safely in Denver, where they were met on the jet bridge by a couple of Denver police officers. MacCarthy was shocked to be confronted by the cops. She worried that they were there to deliver more bad news. But, it turned out that they wanted to talk to her because someone had called them, suspicious about their behavior. Moira had been crying because her uncle died. Then, afterwards, she was confronted by the police, and terrified because of all of the news coverage about people of color being abused or even killed by the police.

After talking to MacCarthy and her daughter, Denver police cleared them of any wrongdoing, and they were free to go. MacCarthy recorded the incident on her phone. The initial police report indicated that a Southwest flight attendant had reported the duo for “suspicious behavior”.

Two weeks later, MacCarthy got a phone call from the Denver Police Human Trafficking unit. The caller said the unit was following up on MacCarthy’s case. It was only then that MacCarthy realized she had been suspected of human trafficking.

MacCarthy sent an email to Southwest Airlines about this incident and, she says, so far they have not apologized. Instead, she claims she has only received two brief automated responses. MacCarthy has retained an attorney and is accusing Southwest Airlines of “racial profiling”. She now wants “a written apology from the airline, immediate reimbursement of the full price of their tickets, and “additional compensation to account for the trauma imposed on an innocent family, and especially on a grieving ten year-old Black girl.”

Southwest Airlines has said it’s “disheartened” by MacCarthy’s story of the events and has “plans to reach out to her.” In a statement to CNN, Southwest Airlines spokesperson Dan Landson said:

“We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the Customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us. Our Employees undergo robust training on Human Trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of Customers who travel with us each year,”

I can’t blame Mary MacCarthy and her daughter for being very upset and traumatized by what happened to them last month. On the other hand, I also have some empathy for the flight attendant who called the police. It sounds like the flight attendant was following protocol based on training. And while it’s certainly possible that the call was based on the flight attendant’s racial biases, I can’t conclude for certain that it was, based on the information I’ve read about this case so far.

Just yesterday, I read another story about a sixteen year old girl who was abducted by a 61 year old man. The girl had seen a hand gesture on Tik Tok called the Signal for Help. She used it while riding in the car with her kidnapper, hoping someone in another car would notice her signal of distress. Fortunately, someone did notice, and called 911. The motorist who made the emergency call also stayed behind the car and updated the police to the kidnapper’s location. That’s how the Laurel County sheriff’s department in Kentucky managed to arrest James Herbert Brick and bring the teenager he’d abducted to safety.

Brick has been charged with two felonies: unlawful imprisonment and possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor. He was locked up in the Laurel County Correctional Center in London, Ky., on a $10,000 bond.

In both of these scenarios, people saw something and said something, which is the advice often given to those who are concerned about something that is amiss. I’ve heard that advice given in situations involving potential crimes, as well as in situations that involve potential medical issues. Yes, it’s possible that a person is making much ado about nothing, but, as they say, “better safe than sorry”, especially when children are involved.

My heart goes out to Mary MacCarthy and Moira. They were already upset and anxious on that flight to Denver, given the terrible and sudden loss of MacCarthy’s brother, who was only 46 years old. Ms. MacCarthy also says that Moira is only ten, but she looks much older than ten. And it’s almost always scary to be confronted by the police, particularly in this era during which Black people have been injured or killed by American cops.

But… unfortunately, there are people out there who traffic children. Not all traffickers are scary looking men. Sometimes women are involved with trafficking children, and they get away with it, because they don’t fit the stereotypical profile of a trafficker. And flight attendants are trained to look for the signs of people who might be harming children. The flight attendant who called the police reported that Ms. MacCarthy and Moira were among the last to board the flight and the last to buy tickets. And they didn’t speak during the flight. Of course, the flight attendant had no way of knowing the circumstances of why the duo were behaving as they were, and she had many other passengers to look after on the flight. It might not have been possible for her to find out more about the situation before she made her judgment call.

It seems to me that Ms. MacCarthy is legitimately upset because she’s offended. I don’t blame her for being offended. But I would also hate to see people being discouraged from calling for help when they see something that doesn’t look right. I understand that calling the police on matters involving people of color can lead to tragic consequences. It shouldn’t be that way, though. People should feel free to call for help if they think help is needed. And I think in this case, the flight attendant was obviously concerned and felt that the situation merited calling the police. It turned out that she was wrong, but what if she hadn’t been wrong?

Over the past couple of days, I’ve noticed several people hitting a post I wrote earlier this year about how the “Karen” stigma can actually be deadly. That post was about a column I read in The Atlantic magazine, about a woman who was concerned that her pharmacy wasn’t requiring people to wear face masks at the drive in pickup station. But she didn’t want to be a “Karen”, so she didn’t say anything about it.

That post was written in late January of this year, before a lot of people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. The incident the article it was based on occurred even earlier than that. The point I made in that post is that being overly concerned about being labeled a “Karen” or a “BBQ Becky” or “Permit Patty” could actually cause harm to people. If there is a situation that is potentially dangerous, a person should feel okay about asking for help from people who have the ability to investigate. In a perfect world, making such a call would be perfectly safe, and would not result in someone being hurt, killed, or even humiliated.

Ms. MacCarthy assumes that she and her daughter were questioned because they don’t look alike. And it’s possible that racism played a part in the reason the flight attendant noticed them and called the cops. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the flight attendant was legitimately concerned and believed the duo were throwing up major red flags. The end result was that Mary MacCarthy and her daughter were cleared and allowed to go on their way. Yes, it was traumatic, embarrassing, and scary, but in the end, no one was hurt or killed, and no one actually was being trafficked. Those are good things, even if Southwest Airlines hasn’t apologized for the mistake.

For the record, yes, I do think the airline owes Ms. MacCarthy and her daughter a sincere apology. I’m sure that Southwest Airlines will eventually settle with Ms. MacCarthy. Hopefully, the settlement will be appropriate and make the situation less horrifying for MacCarthy and her daughter. According to NBC news:

“At this point they can speak with my attorneys,” MacCarthy said.

She says it’s about more than an apology.

“I travel with my daughter’s birth certificate because I’m ready to answer any questions if necessary,” she said. “The fact that we’re mother and daughter, the fact that I’m a single parent traveling with my daughter. It’s the right of TSA to ask those questions, I’m open to that. But the way this was handled was so unprofessional.

“I will do whatever it takes to speak out against the type of ignorant behavior and policies that lead to families being treated this way.”

I think people involved with serving and protecting the public have a tough and often thankless job. But I also think that these kinds of situations, where an offended person pursues legal remedies against those who act out of caution– especially when it involves children— could have a chilling effect that might lead to more children being harmed or killed. If someone sees something that raises a red flag, but they decide not to act because of the danger of being sued or even just being called a “Karen”, there could be even more tragedies. I’m sure the young lady who gave the Signal for Help while being driven through multiple states with her 61 year old captor is happy that someone acted and called the police.

But… in Mary MacCarthy’s defense, I also think that once the Denver Police cleared her and her daughter, that should have been the end of it. The human trafficking department should not have called her to “follow up”. I think if that hadn’t have happened, this story would have a different trajectory. And I do believe her when she says that Moira is traumatized by what happened.

I hope someday, the police situation in the United States will be overhauled, so that officers can actually be thought of as good people to call for help, rather than just threatening and potentially deadly. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime. And… on another note, flying has gotten to be pretty terrible these days. Stories like these make me want to avoid flying even more than ever.

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mental health

Being unlikeable isn’t always a bad thing…

This morning, Bill and I listened to James Taylor’s new Audible book together. The book, called Break Shot: My First 21 Years, is all about James Taylor’s first 21 years of life, the time before he was famous. I wrote about Break Shot the other day, before Bill had a chance to listen to it with me. I wanted Bill to hear it, since I related to so much of it and I figured he would, too.

After the book was over, we had a conversation about this pressure many people feel to be “liked”. Bill is a very likable person. He’s kind, generous, friendly, thoughtful, respectful, and decent. I, on the other hand, am not always likable. I have a tendency to be loud, opinionated, profane, annoying, disrespectful, and unfriendly. However, one thing I have noticed is that while I may not have tons of friends, the ones I do have tend to be high quality people who treat me well. Bill, on the other hand, has some good friends, but he also tends to attract people who try to take advantage of him. Those people might be “friendly” and “nice” to him to his face, but then they would roll all over him.

Several times in his life, he’s found himself a doormat to others who were willing to make a scene. Or he’d do favors for people who probably didn’t deserve the consideration. More than once, I’ve witnessed him helping people who don’t appreciate his efforts and even criticize him when he doesn’t do exactly what they wanted. It seemed to be lost on those people that he was doing them a favor– he could have just as easily told them to fuck off. In fact, I probably would have, in a less profane way. Bill gave up a lot to those people because he couldn’t stand the idea of not being at peace. It was easier to give in to his ex wife when she did crazy things than put his foot down and say no. It was easier to be apologetic and understanding to other abusive people in his life than demand that they treat him fairly, or not take advantage of his good nature. I have often joked with him that he needs to develop a resting bitch face more like mine.

I’ve always thought it was curious that my husband, who would bravely and willingly go off to war, would be so quick to let things slide on the domestic front. Having gotten to know him for the past twenty years, I can see where he’s learned to be so accommodating. Bill’s parents are also extremely nice, likable people who don’t like strife and hate disappointing other people. My parents, on the other hand, were a lot less willing to put up with abuse from others. They didn’t mind having enemies, and they taught me that having enemies isn’t the end of the world.

I think Bill and I are very compatible because we even out each other. He’s made me feel less depressive and angry, and I have prompted him to be more willing to stand up for himself. I have tried to teach him that it’s better to have a few genuine friends than a lot of people who “like” you, but feel no compunction about screwing you over. I’ve also tried to show him that it’s not the end of the world if someone has a public meltdown. In fact, I even told him about a book I read some years ago where this point was illustrated. The book was called Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy People at 35,000 Feet. Written by flight attendant, Heather Poole, it was an entertaining collection of anecdotes about working in the airline industry. I wouldn’t have thought I would take a nugget of wisdom from a book like hers, but sure enough I did. Here is the pertinent excerpt from the book:

What is the wisdom I gleaned from this anecdote? A man was being abusive to a flight attendant who was simply trying to do her job. When she corrected him in an assertive way, he became even more belligerent and abusive and said “fuck you” to her. He probably figured the flight attendant would back off and maybe even offer him a free drink to calm him down. Instead, she leaned over and whispered “fuck you” right back to him. He then proceeded to completely lose control and was escorted off the aircraft. Who was the loser in that situation? It certainly wasn’t the flight attendant. She kept her cool and said “Buh bye.” to the guy as he was dragged off the plane. Do you think she cares if the guy who said “fuck you” to her thinks she’s a bitch? I highly doubt it.

Was what the flight attendant did something a “nice”, “likable” person would do? No, not particularly… but I’ll bet that profane passenger thought twice about using abusive language when speaking to a flight attendant on his next airline experience. The moral of the story is, if someone makes a “scene”, it’s not the end of the world. As embarrassing as scenes can be, it’s helpful to keep in mind that if someone makes a scene, other people aren’t going to be looking at the person who is calm and mortified. They’ll be looking at and probably judging the person who is making a scene. They’re the ones who are out of control, not you. Adults are expected to be in control of their own behavior, and you can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own. If someone thinks you’re a bitch or an asshole for standing up for yourself, they’re not worthy of your company.

I am a firm believer that you have to teach people how to treat you. That doesn’t mean being mean, nasty, or rude; it means being assertive and having the courage to stand up for yourself. Of course, it’s wise to pick your battles. Some fights are simply not worth the effort. However, if someone is being an asshole, it’s not wrong to call them out. People have called me out before and, fortunately, I have matured enough to take an honest look at myself and apologize when I behave badly. Everybody behaves badly sometimes, and being apologetic when it’s warranted never killed anyone. But neither has standing your ground when it’s warranted.

Bill struggles with wanting to be liked. He grew up with little conflict. He and his mom are very close and rarely fought with each other. He saw less of his dad when he was growing up, but when he was with him, there also wasn’t much fighting. Bill has a huge, sympathetic heart and he loves to please people. He’s one of the most service oriented people I know. It truly brings him joy to help others, especially when they appreciate his efforts. I, on the other hand, grew up in a family where there was a lot of fighting and selfishness. I certainly didn’t enjoy the fights and, to this day, I get really upset when people yell at me. I can remember having panic attacks when my parents and sisters fought with me. However, because I had those conflicts, I think I’m less concerned about ruffling feathers than Bill is. I know it won’t kill anyone if I piss them off. If they’re reasonable people, they’ll eventually get over it and we’ll repair the relationship with strengthened boundaries. If they’re not reasonable, then the relationship is worth letting go. Not everyone is worthy of being a friend. The older I get, the less time I have for people who aren’t reasonable and decent. I have NO time for abusive, unreasonable people anymore.

So, while we were digesting James Taylor’s early life story together, Bill and I were discussing what we took from the Audible. Somehow, we segued into talking about situations in which Bill has often found himself. It may be unbelievable to those who have never met him, but he is one of the kindest, most understanding, genuinely loving people I have ever met. I look at him every day and can’t believe my luck. He’s willing to give so much… to a fault, really. He’s already been through hell when he was dealing with his greedy ex wife, who separated him from his children, tried to ruin his relationship with his parents, and demanded that he give her much more than she was entitled to. He’s survived that experience and is now thriving. I was with him every step of the way. I remember telling him that this shit with his ex wife was temporary and that he’d come out of it a survivor. And he has. He doesn’t tolerate her abuse anymore, either.

Ditto to when Bill went to war in Iraq with an abusive colonel who played mind games with him, demanded all of his time and energy, and did everything he could to humiliate him. Think Donald Trump in a uniform– completely narcissistic, uncaring about other people’s needs, and selfish. Someone finally stood up to that colonel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Bill who took a stand, but that guy finally did get his comeuppance in the form of a very embarrassing and public firing weeks before he had been planning to pin on as a brigadier general. It was very satisfying to watch that guy’s career go down in flames, knowing the way he regularly treated the people under him, especially while they were in a war zone.

I remember taking calls from Bill when he was in Iraq. He told me his boss reminded him of his abusive ex wife. I knew it was really bad when he compared his boss to his ex. Fortunately, Bill is now thriving after that experience, but it took some time to undo the mind fuckery. And years later, when that abusive colonel wanted to add Bill on Linked In, Bill felt fine about ignoring the request. That guy wasn’t someone who deserved to be in Bill’s life, even if ignoring the request felt like a “mean” thing to do. Bill established boundaries and enforced them. He’s looking after his own interests, as every wise person should. It’s noble to want to help people, but even in a plane crash, you’re told to put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help other people.

We’ll have other challenges ahead of us that will require backbone and assertiveness. But we’ve already survived a hell of a lot. Sometimes it’s scary to be “unlikable”, to rock the boat and ruffle feathers, and to take a stand. But we’ve already survived so much. If someone doesn’t like us for standing up for ourselves when it’s warranted, that’s their problem.

I often run into people who don’t like me, especially in the military community. There’s often an undercurrent of misogyny in military circles. I’ve seen it directed toward female service members, but I’ve especially seen it toward wives of service members. Women who are “dependas”– overweight, uneducated, entitled women who sit on their asses and spend their husband’s paychecks are frowned upon, of course. But so are educated women who refuse to shut up and color and dare to speak up when someone is abusive. In fact, in some ways, the educated women get even worse treatment and less respect. It’s usually from insecure men who can’t stand the idea that a woman might make him look stupid. Of course, there are a lot of people like Bill in the military, too. Some service members are true heroes in every sense of the word. But some are abusive and disrespectful to everyone they think will take it without a fuss. I’m less likable because I protest when people are shitty to me, and I don’t mind speaking my mind. Could I be more likable by sitting quietly in a corner? Sure… but what’s the payoff? Someone who pulls a jock strap over my face? No thanks… I don’t want to be liked by that type of person, anyway.

Sometimes being too accommodating really stinks…

You may not like me. Lots of people don’t. Plenty of people find me annoying on many levels. Those who know and take the time to understand me usually find out that I’m not a bad person at all. I have my good points and my bad points. I don’t suffer fools and I don’t tolerate a lot of bullshit. But I’m a good and loyal friend to those who deserve it and can tolerate my idiosyncrasies. I may not be as “likable” as Bill is, but I also don’t tend to be crapped on by people for very long. When people crap on me, I tend to answer in kind somehow. If I were more like Bill, I doubt our marriage would survive because there would be no end to fending off people who want to take advantage… especially Bill’s ex wife. He needs a partner who will call bullshit and risk being in the dog house without being abusive and exploitative. In that sense, I think we’re perfect for each other.

But I would never be cruel enough to use liquid heat on someone’s jockstrap. That’s truly a “dick” move.

Those who would like to read Heather Poole’s book can follow the Amazon link. I am an Amazon Associate, so if you purchase through my site, I will get a small commission from Amazon. But there’s never any pressure. I share these books because I think they’re worth reading.

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