When I heard that MIT student Star Simpson had been arrested at Boston's Logan airport for wearing an outfit that incorporated what police called a hoax bomb, but which was really nothing more than a piece of electronic art, I was outraged.
I know that times being what they are, law enforcement needs to take security threats seriously. No one will dispute that. But what we're seeing, again and again, as in the case of the two Boston men arrested for putting up devices that were part of a Cartoon Network marketing ploy, is that police, media and prosecutors have a very hard time seeing the forest for the trees in these situations.
In Simpson's case, for example, there is every bit of evidence--anecdotal, I'll admit, as I haven't seen any legal documents or even the actual outfit in question--that the shirt she was wearing when she went to the airport to pick up a friend was nothing at all like a bomb, was a shirt she wore all the time, and certainly wasn't worn with any intention of scaring anyone.
Yet, she faces serious charges, and therefore serious and escalating legal bills to defend herself against something which, it seems to me and to many, many people, should have just been written off to a misunderstanding.
That's where my wallet and that of others comes into play. Right now, points out BoingBoing, on the site Instructables, you can buy a shirt bearing the slogan, "Improvising Electric Devices is not a Crime," a reference to the device Simpson was wearing that caused her arrest. Some of the proceeds from sales of the shirt will go to her defense fund, so I bought one. And hopefully when people like myself wear the shirt around, it will raise awareness that maybe we all should be willing to take things a little less seriously around here.
This isn't to say that police shouldn't be free to stop someone they see whom they suspect might be a security risk. But they should also be willing to recognize it when that risk isn't there, and let someone like Star Simpson go. Because it seems clear to me that if her case goes to trial, she will prevail, but at significant financial cost to herself and to taxpayers. And what use is that?