is innocuous. Nevertheless, they arrest me, put me in handcuffs, and take me to the State Police office for “You can’t have that. No.
more questioning. I’m “processed” and sent to a room No, you can’t have that.
where a detective questions me for an hour or more.
The telephone in the room never stops ringing. The I’m calling the police.”
U.S. secretary of homeland security wants to know
about the “Boston Logan Terrorist Suicide Bomber.”
I’m terrified, exhausted, and want to fall asleep
on every remotely soft surface I see. I realize I’m
not going to get my problem sets done.
Nothing makes any sense. One minute, you’re
an MIT student trying to be organized and do
good work, and the next you feel like only Chuck
Palahniuk could write a more bizarre story.
Before I know it, reporters are calling my family
and everyone I’ve ever known.
After several hours, I’m placed in a police transport car to be taken to East Boston District Court.
The radio is on, tuned to a daytime talk show.
The host is trashing me by first, middle, and last
names, discussing various vast, awful, and mean
speculations about who I am and what happened.
The officer switches it off without comment.
How does the media know my middle name,
where I live, and how to reach my family? How is the
radio capable of telling me what happened at the
airport, before I’m even sure myself? It’s evident
that someone in the police department sold the
story for a really nice dinner.
My house is staked out, so I stay with a friend.
My old dorm is surrounded, as are my old haunts,
including the machine shop at MIT. One time, I’m
spit on: while I’m riding my bike around Copley
Square in June — ten months after being arrested!
— a man snarls, “You shoulda done time!” and
hocks a giant loogie on my spokes.
For months, I can’t walk down the street or use
public transportation without being recognized.
Many people take their cues from the same factless
news reports. I can even tell which news sources a
person tuned in to, by what they believe about me.
This is Boston, the same city that blew up
Cartoon Network’s LED signs and a private firm’s
traffic counter because the unidentified electronics
weren’t well-labeled enough to prevent the bomb
squad from thinking they might be a threat.
After ten months of slow-progress court proceedings, East Boston District Court finally drops the
hoax device charges. I’m ordered to perform 50
hours of community service, avoid being arrested in
Massachusetts for one year, and submit an apology
to the people who almost shot me because they Star Simpson grew up in Hawaii and studied at MI T.
overreacted to the LEDs on my sweatshirt.
If I don’t, I’ll be charged with disorderly conduct,
which is hard to defend, because it’s not necessary
for the state to prove I intended to be disorderly,
only that I behaved in a disorderly way. In the end,
I choose to finish the court case at the first possible
opportunity, because the ordeal has exhausted me.
I’m well aware that things could have gone much
worse. To quote State Police Maj. Scott Pare at the
press conference, “Thankfully because she followed
our instructions, she ended up in our cell instead of
I’m disturbed by the idea that, with one hysterical
phone call, the state can be set in motion to relentlessly persecute anyone. Especially in a town full of
tech hobbyists. Also, the State of Massachusetts
seemed unable to stop persecuting me, no matter
what the facts were, once the wheels were set in
motion. I don’t like what this means about the future.
Of the few hilarious side effects of the arrest, the
funniest involves the 2007 International Symposium
on Wearable Computers. All of my wearables
superheroes (especially Leah Buechley, whose LED
clothing project appears in CRAFT, Volume 01) were
to convene for the symposium, held, by chance, in
Boston. I was invited, and I was delighted to accept.
Only there was a catch. The venue chosen was
the Hyatt hotel at Logan International Airport.
The judge’s ban against my approaching MassPort
property of course blocked my ability to attend the
event. So, getting arrested both wholly created, and
destroyed, that opportunity for me.
Many thanks go to my legal team of Tom Dwyer,
Serina Barkley, and others at the firm Dwyer &
Collora, to my parents, and to Tim Anderson,
Hal Abelson, Gerry Sussman, Patrick Winston,
Ken Manning, and everyone who knew better than
to take the police and press accounts seriously.
Editor’s Note: Star Simpson wrote a how-to
for making your own light-up sweatshirt at
48 Make: Volume