Forum

Carnegie Felons

One million dollars.

When you draw out the first vowel in “million” and place the tip of your pinky next to your mouth, you comically conjure Dr. Evil in Austin Powers.

When you assign it as bond for two students trying to scale a wall with a folding chair, you emphasize the role of racial profiling in law enforcement.

We were shocked to hear that our peers, senior Sudeep Paul and junior Anand Durvasula, were caught breaking into Heinz Field a few hours before a Steelers game last Sunday. The two were attempting to film a final project video for a class. Trespassing is a crime regardless of movie-making intentions, and we don’t want to disregard the consequences of their breach in common sense. Especially coming on the heels of a serious terrorist threat to NFL stadiums a few weeks prior, the act should have been taken very seriously — and we were glad it was.

But we were appalled to hear how quickly the police assessed the situation as an act of terror — especially without commanding evidence: Though they first walked away when a security guard approached them, Paul and Durvasula never resisted apprehension. Though they first lied about their reason for being there, the pair told the truth quickly thereafter. Though four bomb dogs were brought in and two “positive hits for explosives” were made on Paul and Durvasula’s vehicle, police never found explosives. In fact, false positives are common with bomb-detection dogs — especially around camera equipment, which the police found in the car, and which makes sense within the video project explanation.

However, the initial police report reveals authorities’ prejudice. It identified the pair as “2 Middle Eastern males.” Paul and Durvasula are U.S.-born citizens of Indian descent.

It doesn’t add up, then, for the magistrate to assign an exceedingly high bond of $1 million to students held on counts of trespassing and conspiracy — not on a more grave offense such as treason, attempted murder, or making threats of terrorism.

Since 9/11, citizens have insisted on living in a highly secure society, and we commend the Heinz Field security personnel for taking action quickly and decisively. But we don’t understand holding two students on a $1 million bond for trespassing because they look “Middle Eastern.”

It would not unduly burden security officials to remember the difference between a sovereign Asian subcontinent thousands of miles from a fractious geographical region.

This element is especially disturbing. Not only are local law enforcement officers woefully ignorant of ethnic identities, but they proved such identities are enough to consider offenders guilty until proven innocent. Even if Paul and Durvasula were of Middle Eastern descent, that should not have been a reason enough to hold them on such a hefty bond — especially because their names were not on any potential terrorist list and they had no prior arrests.

That said, this event has been highly instructive. It emphasizes the importance of our Constitutional right and civic duty to monitor government and law enforcement. Security and scrutiny must go hand in hand. It is up to us to maintain the right balance.

In that vein, we also commend and thank the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for its November 8 editorial, which pointed out almost immediately how the situation was blown out of proportion. A news article the next day revealed that a “city magistrate set their [Paul’s and Durvasula’s] $1 million bond on his own without input from the district attorney’s office, the U.S. attorney’s office or the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

Being considered innocent until proven guilty is one of Americans’ inalienable rights, and thankfully, the district attorney’s office recognized this when it released Paul and Durvasula on their own recognizance last Wednesday evening.

In the end, everyone screwed up. Authorities set bond before considering all the evidence, and Paul and Durvasula sullied CMU’s intellectual reputation by being thoughtless enough to break into a stadium one week after a credible bomb threat. Felonies are never justified — even when committed in the name of homework.