Not Quite Terrorism at Steelers' Heinz Field

U-WIRE-11/08/2006-U. Pittsburgh: EDITORIAL: Bombs over Pittsburgh's Heinz Field? (C) 2006 The Pitt News Via U-WIRE

Staff Editorial, The Pitt News (U. Pittsburgh)

PITTSBURGH -- Police arrested two Carnegie Mellon University students of Indian ethnicity over the weekend as the students attempted to sneak into Heinz Field after midnight. The officials involved in the arrest and investigation overreacted to what amounted to be college kids just fooling around.

The students were apprehended while trying to climb a fence and gain entrance to Heinz Field at about 1:48 a.m., according to an article in the Post-Gazette. The Joint Terrorism Task Force took part in monitoring the situation when bomb-sniffing dogs honed in on a suspicious substance that ended up being chemical residue from the cameras the two men were carrying.

The federal government is no longer involved in the investigation, since it's now clear that they were just acting incredibly foolishly, rather than intentionally malicious. When the men were first apprehended, they said that they were just checking out the venue because they had tickets for that day's 4:15 p.m. game.

Later, the students said that they were filming a scene for a school film project, although they had neither a video camera nor a tripod with them at the time -- that equipment was later located in their car.

There will be no federal charges brought against the pair, but they are still being held on $1 million bonds. The bonds can be reduced, but that will occur at a hearing that has yet to be scheduled.

It also appears that from the start, the men were being treated suspiciously, as a document filed by the police Sunday misidentified the men as "2 Middle Eastern males" and not of Indian descent. Compounding the suspicion of law enforcement were the previous threats made against National Football League facilities, which were later found to be a hoax. From there, it's easy to see how the situation blew up into a full-out terrorist activity investigation.

Thomas Farrell, a local attorney and former federal prosecutor, believes that the case was handled inappropriately.

"Think about it. It's the kind of prank that college students do all over the country every week. It really does sound like people went overboard because of their ethnicity," Farrell said in the Post-Gazette. He also added that holding people with a $1 million bail is for extremely serious cases or for people with no ties to the United States. It appears that neither of these circumstances are appropriate, as both men are U.S. citizens and the government is no longer treating the situation as a terrorist investigation.

Both the students and officials are at fault. There's no doubt that racial profiling contributed to the intense scrutiny of the two men, and in light of recent security concerns at NFL facilities, the students should have known better.

Hopefully, an apology as public as the investigation will be offered to the students, as being involved in terrorist investigations in the United States can be extremely damaging to one's reputation.

The students probably won't walk away from this without being charged with something, but we hope the city drops the bail and the charges to something that reflects the seriousness of the event while taking into account how inflated and blown out of proportion the investigation was by racial profiling.

Officials must hesitate to shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to people's credibility and reputations, especially when it's something as sensitive as terrorism.

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