Proving once again that one can never be too paranoid these days, Washington D.C. police succeeded in making a mountain from a molehill when they transformed a confused tourist into a "suicide bomber."
Wenhao Zhao, 33, allegedly aroused dire police suspicion for wearing all-black clothing and having two small, rolling suitcases with him while he stood outside the scenic west wing of Congress. Initial reports said that Zhao did not speak English very well, perhaps leading to the confusion over his request to see the president. However, later reports have Zhao speaking near-perfect Americano. Seems like the stubborn little Chink just didn't know his place when officers treated him like a terrorist.
Hmmmm. Let's analyze this scene, shall we? Since when did it become universally suspicious for people to wear all-black outfits? Obviously no one in pastels ever commits a crime. We all know that evildoers favor darker clothes for symbolism, right? Right.
If that's true then every single businesswoman wearing all-black and sulking in her office for more than five minutes should be arrested immediately. God only knows what she's carrying in her satchel, and those wires coming from her jacket and going into her ears are clearly some kind of detonator. Using the fine example of the police in Mr. Zhao's case, tourists should now be on notice that only bright colors are acceptable dress for anyone visiting the United States, and especially those passing through the monument-laden national capitol. Hipsters, beware: your style sense can now be used as an element of probable cause in your forcible detention.
Then there's the matter of the suitcases. Okay, I'll grant that not every sightseer takes their luggage with them. It does seem a little odd to have two rolling suitcases along for the ride. However, maybe the guy just got into town and stopped off at the Capitol Building before checking into his hotel. Or maybe he wanted a parting glance at the legendary American icon before flying back to Australia. Who knows? Last time I checked, it was not a crime to be walking around the United States with two small suitcases in tow. If it was, the aforementioned businesswoman in black, traveling to her next out-of-state business meeting could be tackled at any moment and dragged off to the police station for interrogation. This should also be a clear signal for backpackers everywhere. I mean, really -- you could pack a whole lot of explosives into an inner-frame backpack. And god only knows where those people are from.
Zhao as a suicide bomber? Please. Any asshole worth a shit knows that suicide bombers get in close to their targets and blow themselves up at the first opportune moment. Mr. Zhao was standing peacefully outside the capitol building for quite a while before the cops made such a grotesque overreaction. He made no aggressive moves or demands. Police are now characterizing his request to speak to the President Bush as a "demand." Really? Isn't it a lot more likely that the guy's broken English misplaced a couple of words, transforming a question about a White House tour into a threat on the president's life?
We're talking about cops here, and cops never fudge the truth to make themselves look like tolerant heroes. No, no-that never happens. The truth is that we will never know what Mr. Zhao really said. At the time the initial officer questioned him there were no television cameras or microphones around. It's all a matter of he-said, he-said, and no one is bothering to ask Mr. Zhao's perspective. In fact, now that it's clear he was not a suicide bomber, the story is being shuffled from view faster than Martha Stewart's prison photos.
Police are also making a big deal about Zhao's refusal to open his bags. Attention, people: this is still America. The last time I looked, the Constitution was still in effect. That Constitution, the very same one we sell to the rest of the world as the paragon of human rights, still has a Fourth Amendment. Part of that amendment is the right against unreasonable search and seizure. It virtually guarantees your right to say "no" to police officers when they demand to search your goods in the absence of a clear crime. The very fact that the police asked for the bags to be opened suggests that they knew Zhao was guilty of nothing more than standing around. So, what was found in the bags after the cops detonated them? Clothes, shoes, a CD player and the remains of a watch. The bags were scanned by the cops beforehand, and this is what they saw. Airline security officers would not have even stopped a bag like this. But when the SWAT tactical team has been summoned, a perimeter set up, and panic established, even the most innocuous articles suddenly take on a whole new threatening life.
Unfortunately for Mr. Zhao, the fact that he did nothing wrong is being rapidly buried under another hero cape by law enforcement spin doctors. He will probably be shipped back to Australia post-haste and the case against him (for the notorious terrorism charge of "disorderly conduct") dismissed. The D.C. police are not going to want this guy's story to get out. He's going to sound like what he was: a slightly confused tourist suddenly treated like Public Enemy Number One by overzealous, egotistical law enforcement agents all too eager to make heroes of themselves in the public eye. Meanwhile, the fearful, pre-programmed public will breathe a collective sigh of relief that the police were there to apprehend this apparently dangerous man. One more day in the land of the "free," where that word is increasingly viewed with four-letter vulgarity.
But don't take my word for it, check it out yourself (before it vanishes for good).