Yukari Miyamae has become something of a folk hero among air travelers angry over the TSA’s screenings and pat-downs.
The 61-year-old Longmont, Colo. resident is facing a felony count of sexual abuse after allegedly getting into an argument with a TSA agent at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix on July 14, and squeezing and twisting the agent’s left breast with both hands. Miyamae was released from custody the next day.
“Police statement and Fox coverage does not depict accurately what happened to me,” Miyamae tweeted, without elaborating.
The Yukari Miyamae Legal Defense Fund has created a page on Facebook, which includes a PayPal donation button. Trial lawyer Judd Golden of Boulder, Colo. has agreed to represent her.
“Yukari has been violated and traumatized,” Golden said. “She wishes to maintain her privacy at this time. She appreciates everyone’s support. We are gathering facts and will be making a public statement soon.”
The page was set up by two of Miyamae’s friends, Ann Concord and Davide Andrea. “It is important to know some things about Yukari as a person,” they wrote. “We have known her for many years, she is like part of our family, and we feel compelled to shed light on her character. She is a hard-working career woman as a professional translator of Japanese/English documents. Her current job is in Phoenix, Ariz., where she has been commuting from Denver for the past several weeks, flying twice weekly.
“At home in her spare time she stays closely attuned to both local and global current affairs, volunteers for independent community radio hosting music and news programming, is a dedicated defender of human rights, and is well-known in town as a pretty nice person. She is someone we are proud to have as our friend. Personally, we feel that these charges are a terrible mistake, completely beyond her character, and will be dropped when the facts are brought to a fair trial.”
People from across the country have posted messages of support, with some comparing Miyamae to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.
“I understand where you are coming from,” wrote Beth Barton of McKinney, Texas. “I totally disagree with forcing women to allow others to touch us with no basis in reasonable suspicion. I’m surprised that they are calling what you did groping and what the TSA has a standing right to do to us is considered okay and normal. I do not fly unless I absolutely have to strictly because I don’t want to be touched that way by a stranger.”
“Good for you,” wrote Carol Miklus of Phoenix. “I was sexually molested by an TSA agent. Tried to report it to their supervisor, then the police. No one would help me. I hope you can do something to stop what is going on in Phoenix.”
“GO! YUKARI!! …You did what I have wanted to do for YEARS!!” wrote Jedaya Elizabeth Taveras of New York City.
Similar comments were posted on other Facebook pages, including “Free Yukari Miyamae” (although she is not currently incarcerated) and “Acquit Yukari Mihamae” (her name was misspelled in initial news reports). The latter site has more than 4,000 “likes.”
An opposing Facebook page, “Convict Yukari Mihamae,” has also been set up. One critic, Tom Pajewski, wrote, “Flying is a privilege and not a right. If you do not want to be searched, don’t fly. I am sick of you people who think you are above everything. Yeah I lost people I know on 9/11 and if you don’t think a little personal inconvenience is worth saving hundreds of lives you are nothing but inconsiderate a–holes anyway … TSA is doing their job … The woman was out of line and needs to be prosecuted.”
The TSA said in a statement, “TSA officers work every day to protect the traveling public, and the agency will not tolerate assaults against its workforce.”
Meanwhile, the Phoenix New Times is conducting an online poll, asking its readers whether Miyamae is a “hero” or “hoodlum.” The results as of July 21: 75 percent for the former, 25 percent for the latter.