Vance Gilbert, the folk singer and star on the local open-mike scene, was understandably upset when the crew of his United Airlines flight turned around the plane while taxiing to the runway at Logan Airport this week so security officials could check him out. Apparently, someone had seen him reading a book about vintage aircraft, replete with cockpit photos, and become alarmed. It’s an odd reason to express concern about a passenger, one that might or might not have been influenced by the fact that he has dark skin. Gilbert is African-American but can pass for Middle Eastern.
Though officials quickly checked him out and let him back on the plane, he felt stigmatized and, he posted on his website, “silently wept’’ all the way to Washington. Gilbert’s pain is real, and transportation officials should remember the special kind of hurt and anger felt by those who feel they’ve been racially profiled. But at a time when transportation venues are saturated with announcements prompting travelers to “see something, say something,’’ officials are right to err on the side of caution. Sometimes, travelers’ suspicions may be off base - even way off base, as in this case - but they shouldn’t be dismissed prematurely.
Absent any further evidence to the contrary, the State Police, Transportation Security Administration, and United Airlines all acted reasonably.