The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking
her freedom with the song “Sweet Black Angel,” contending that she was “Not a gun-toting teacher / Not a Red-lovin’ schoolmarm” but rather a “sweet black slave.” And a coalition of Soviet artists, headed by the composer Dmitry Shostakovich, wrote an open letter to President Nixon, begging him to “use his influence torelease Miss Davis.” When she was finally granted bail in February 1972, her $102,500 bond was posted by a total stranger who put up his family’s dairy farm as collateral; he did so because he believed that Communist ideals were consistent with theteachings of Jesus Christ.
    Like virtually everyone else in America, Roger Holder had been aware of the Davis case for months. But as he read an account of the trial that April day, an inexplicable anger overwhelmed him. The story described how prosecutors were trying to introduce a series of fawning letters that Davis had sent to George Jackson, the Black Guerrilla Family leader whose liberation had been the courthouse assault’s ultimate goal; apparently unaware that she was a lesbian, the state theorized that Davis had participated in the plot in order to elope with Jackson. (Jackson had subsequently been killed by guards at San Quentin Prison, during an alleged escape attempt in August 1971.) “That so much love could exist anywhere, in any two people, even between us, I never realized,” she had written in one of her intellectual mashnotes. “It makes me feel all fluttery and weak, not though in the sense of succumbing to weakness, for it makes me feel so much stronger, with you my strength without end,my life-long husband.”
    Holder was incensed by the prosecution’s efforts to use Davis’s private letters against her, a tactic he deemed disrespectful. Now drawn to the ex-professor’s cause, he went to the library to read up on her legal travails. As he thumbed through back issues of newspapers, one courtroom photograph from 1971 caught his eye: that of a cheerful Davis giving a black power salute while a glum Ruchell Magee sat at the defense table, arms bound behind his back.
    Holder meditated on that image and the juxtaposition of hope and despair contained within it. His blood boiled at the humiliation of Magee, a man who bore a passing resemblance to Holder himself. And he fixated on the wry purse of Davis’s lips, which belied the intense focus apparent in her eyes. Holder didn’t think she was beautiful, exactly—he much preferred fresh-faced white girls—but he still felt some magnetic tug at his heart, as if her clenched fist were a signaldirected only at him.
    In that moment, everything clicked for Willie Roger Holder. He finally knew how he and Cathy Kerkow were meant to leave their mark.
    * The Army’s annual desertion rate today typically ranges between 0.3 and 0.8 percent.

    W HEN THE FAA’ S antihijacking task force first convened in February 1969, its ten members knew they faced a daunting challenge—not only because of the severity of the crisis, but also due to the airlines’ intransigence. Having spent vast sums on Beltway lobbyists, the airlines had the political clout to nix any security measure that might inconvenience their customers. So whatever solutions the FAA proposed would have to be imperceptible to the vast majority of travelers.
    John Dailey, a task force member who also served as the FAA’s chief psychologist, began to attack the problem by analyzing the methods of past skyjackers. He pored through accounts of every single American hijacking since 1961—more than seventy cases in all—and compiled a database of the perpetrators’ basic characteristics: how they dressed, where they lived, when they traveled, and how they acted around airline personnel. His research convinced him that all skyjackers involuntarily betrayed their criminal intentions while checking in for their flights. “There isn’t any common denominator except in [the hijackers’]

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