Workers Vanguard No. 984

5 August 2011


Youth Fights Victimization for Sagging Pants

Flying While Black

On June 15, Deshon Marman, a 20-year-old black University of New Mexico student, boarded a US Airways flight to Albuquerque at San Francisco International Airport. While Marman was getting on the plane, a flight attendant ordered him to pull up his sagging pants. Marman, who was carrying two bags, agreed to do so once he had put down his luggage. After he was seated, the pilot, backed up by police, came to Marman’s seat to demand that he get off the plane for supposedly ignoring flight crew instructions. A cell phone video taken by another passenger shows Marman as resolute but respectful in insisting that he had complied, had paid for his ticket and was minding his own business “like everybody else.” The pilot responded: “You’re not like everybody else.”

In racist America, Deshon Marman’s dreadlocks and sagging pants, styles popular among black youth, made him a “thug” not deserving to be treated with human decency. When all the other passengers were ordered to get off the plane, Marman had had enough and agreed to take a different flight. But that’s not what happened. As soon as he had stepped off the plane, Marman was handcuffed, put in leg restraints and taken away to San Mateo County jail.

Marman was held overnight on suspicion of trespassing, resisting arrest and a felony count of assaulting a police officer. The latter charge was based on one cop complaining that he had twisted his knee in the process of assaulting the student. Indeed, the charges were so transparently manufactured after the fact that the county District Attorney struggled to come up with a legal basis to prosecute Marman, finally deciding to drop the charges on July 13. Marman has since sued US Airways over the outrageous treatment he received.

A star football player with a 3.0 grade point average, Deshon Marman made it out of San Francisco’s impoverished Bayview-Hunters Point ghetto by winning a scholarship to the University of New Mexico. When he boarded the US Airways flight, he was returning from the funeral of his best friend, who had been gunned down in the violence endemic to a society that has written off the lives of black ghetto youth as expendable. But as a young black man in America, Marman was still a marked man. He was a target because his clothes and hairstyle were seen as a statement of defiance of white racist authority. Rest assured that a white guy wearing pajama pants, or a butt-crack-revealing construction worker, would not have faced the same treatment.

Marman’s ordeal will be familiar to Muslims or anyone with brown skin or a Near Eastern-sounding name who might have flown since September 11, 2001. Under the so-called “war on terror,” airports are virtual armed security camps where passengers are subject to everything from full-body scans to being groped in humiliating body searches that have come to be referred to as “gate rape.” At the same time, the drive for profit in the airline industry has meant not only increased misery for the passengers but intensified union-busting assaults on airline workers unions. As for passengers’ “security,” safety standards have been thrown overboard by airline companies in the name of cutting costs.

Now, pilots are encouraged to use their prerogative to arbitrarily remove anyone they consider to be “endangering” a flight or they otherwise view as an “undesirable.” In this racist country, such decisions depend on the particular prejudices, or not, of the flight crew and pilot. After Marman’s arrest, a US Airways spokesman said that the airline’s dress code forbids “indecent exposure or inappropriate” attire. But days later it was revealed that a different US Airways crew had no problem letting on a transvestite with barely any clothes on at all. Nor should they have had a problem!

The all-sided bigotry enflamed by the capitalist rulers is used to divide and weaken the working class while increasing the destitution of blacks, immigrants, the poor and all those consigned to the bottom of this society. Rather than acting as cop auxiliaries, airline workers should be championing the defense of all the oppressed, which is fundamental to a genuine fight for everyone’s well-being against the rulers of the decaying, barbaric U.S. capitalist order.