I feel strange about writing this, though remembering what happened causes a surge of differing emotions to rise in me; I think putting down my thoughts might be cathartic. I remind myself that it could have been worse: I am white, Oxford-educated, financially secure and so on, and yet I still feel I have a right to feel a degree of anger and unease.
It started last Friday morning, when, having got an early flight from Derry to London Stansted, I went to wait in the bus station attached the airport for my coach back to Oxford. This was a four hour wait, so I sat there reading a book while waiting for the coach to come.
About 45 minutes before my coach was due to come, a police sniffer dog jumped on me, and two police officers who had appeared out of nowhere immediately began questioning me. I was asked to empty my pockets, my ID was checked against the police computer, and I was asked repeatedly the same questions (where I had come from, where I was going, why, and so on and so on). This went on for about 20 minutes. Eventually they were satisfied that I had done nothing wrong, and they left me alone.
Or so I thought. Next two more officers approach me, purely on the basis that I looked nervous and “frightened” after this experience. What followed here was another 25 minutes of questioning, demands to see my passports, my boarding passes and coach tickets and so on, as well as questions about my personal life and family, and my profession.
The longer this went on, the more nervous and frightened I became. I was worried, too, about missing my coach (which was due to leave at 12). I was asked repeatedly why I was shaking, to which I gave an answer about being tired. I realized that simply saying, “I am frightened because you are harassing me”, would be taken as antagonistic, which one ought to avoid in an airport. It was equally discomforting that the officers insisted that they were working as part of a new programme to keep Stansted airport safe, and that they applied a veneer of friendliness of their actions, as if it could disguise how fundamentally aggressive what they were doing was.
Thankfully I managed to catch the bus, feeling exhausted and uneasy. Should I avoid Stansted airport in future, even though it’s the most convenient location to travel to for me when coming to England? Was it because of how I was dressed, with the Metallica t-shirt and coat with fur-lined hood and boots? Was it because I was so spaced out because of tiredness? Was it the Irish accent? How much worse would it have been if I were Muslim and/or black?
Why was my fear taken as some sort of admission of guilt? Not content with policing my actions, they felt the need to also police my emotions?