In a story reported on by news outlets as varied as ESPN and NPR last week, University of New Mexico football player DeShon Marman was arrested after refusing to deplane from a US Airways flight based on complaints from the flight crew about his sagging pajama pants. The incident, part of which was caught on the cell phone video above by a nearby passenger, brought cries of racism and discrimination from commentators and civil rights organizations, as well as Marman’s attorney.
It’s easy to see why. Regardless of how much of Marman’s boxers may have been visible prior to the beginning of the video, by the time the pilot enters the cabin to ask him to leave the plane, Marman is in his seat, surely not bothering anyone with his arguable wardrobe malfunction. LZ Granderson of ESPN, who spoke to Marman’s mother, said “”the reason that black parents like [Marmon's mother Donna] Doyle are on their sons about something as mundane as pulling up their pants is not that they’re too old to understand but rather that they’re old enough to understand the world all too well.”
Marman begins the conversation in polite astonishment at what he is being asked, and gets understandably angrier as the incident progresses. It is worth noting that Marman was flying back from the funeral of his best friend. Still, the passenger filming the video said of Marman, “”His demeanor never changed from, ‘I’m not getting up, I didn’t do anything wrong, I paid for my ticket.’ ” The fact that he remained as reasonable as he did is fairly remarkable. I’m not sure I would have behaved nearly as politely in the same situation.
According the Marman’s attorney, Marman finally got up from his seat after fifteen to twenty minutes of conversation once he was promised a refund of his ticket, and police surprised him by handcuffing him once he left the plane. He was arrested and held temporarily on charges of trespassing, battery, and resisting arrest. The arrest could jeopardize his scholarship.
The story has taken an interesting, if disheartening, turn this week with the revelation that a man dressed only in women’s underwear was allowed to fly on a US Airways flight just days before Marman’s loose waistband caused such a stir. The man, seen in the photograph at the right, had a bare midriff, and far more visibility of the outlines of his covered parts than would be provided by any pair of boxer shorts I have ever encountered.
The photo has forced US Airways to repeatedly confirm that the airline does not, in fact, have any formal dress code, leading one to the unfortunate conclusion that it was Marman’s skin, appropriately covered or not, that led to his arrest. Marman is a large black man with dread locks, and given the circumstances of his flight, one could forgive him for not flashing a broad smile at the flight attendants as he boarded. When Marman didn’t pull up his pants when first asked, it led the crew to believe he intended to cause trouble, a rather enormous logical leap without underlying assumptions about black men.
Hopefully the airline will do all it can to right this wrong. A formal and public apology, a request that the police not pursue the charges against Marman, and possibly a financial settlement for the distress they have caused him all seem appropriate. Unfortunately, none of that does anything to solve the underlying issue with the airline’s policy. The Wal-mart v. Dukes case, decided this week in the Supreme Court, is another example of the danger of providing low-level employees with uncabined discretion. Ideally the airline will recognize the risk of allowing flight crews to ask passengers to leave when they feel “uncomfortable”, a very loose standard that allows for more than a little bias to enter the equation.
Marman’s attorney indicated that Marman is now free on bail and plans to return to campus within a few days. “He’ll fly Southwest.”