I have always have considerable concern over the constitutional basis for arresting people who make jokes in airports or airplanes about terrorism or bombs. Now, Draco Slaughter, 75, is facing seven years in prison for making a joke on the way off his flight.
Slaughter (an unfortunate name in this circumstance) was leaving Southwest Airlines Flight 373 after landing in New York when a flight attendant noticed an unclaimed carry-on bag near the back of the plane. Slaughter said it was his bag and joked that “there could be a bomb in there.” Wrong audience. The flight attendant called police and Slaughter was arrested.
What is astonishing is that prosecutors and police refused to simply release him with a warning to leave jokes for the taxi ride home — instead they jailed him and formally charged him.
Slaughter is still in jail in lieu of $50,000 bail until he goes back to court Friday.
What is striking about these cases is the lack of a clear criminal offense to fit the widespread policy at airports and airplanes. I have looked for the criminal code provision saying “thou shall not make jokes in airports.” This appears a rule that was simply manufactured by airport security — asserting the right to be joke monitors. That is reflected in the charge against Slaughter. He is not charged with “illegal jokes” but falsely reporting an incident. No one can seriously claim that he was reporting an incident in such a joke. If airport security personnel and staff want to arrest jokesters, they should ask Congress for such a law. Otherwise, the joke should be on them — not on a 75-year-old man who was doing the airplane version of the “pull my finger” gag.
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