When I flew home this past
weekend, I got to see the new TSA screening measures in action. The tiny
airport I flew out of didn't have the new backscatter machines, but TSA agents
were selecting passengers to receive the full-body pat-downs. I watched as a very
elderly man was pulled to the side and patted down head to toe, the agent's
hands rubbing all over his chest and touching his rear end and groin. The man's
wife stood by looking helpless.
I was appalled by the intrusive
nature of the pat-down but even more horrified by how unaccommodating the
agents were to the man's age and frailty. He had to hold his arms out to the
side for a significant amount of time. My elementary school teachers used this
as punishment, until the district made them stop because it was cruel and
unusual. Yet this elderly gentleman was forced to do so to the point of
physical strain--I saw him shaking--in the name of national security.
I've seen the YouTube videos
of young children being stripped searched, of sexual assault victims sobbing because
they've been touched in ways that resurface terrifying memories. I've read conflicting
reports as to whether the backscatter machine's radiation is harmful. I have
friends who, when the TSA asks for their cloak, plan to shame the shamers by
giving them their tunic too. I'm having a hard time discerning if I am outraged
or simply heartbroken.
As more and more people
protest this invasion of their bodies, the TSA agents who bear the brunt of the
anger have complained to their union, asking for more protection from upset passengers.
They don't like being shoved or called molesters, and they want to be able to
do their job professionally without interference. Part of me wants to respond
with incredulity--how it is okay for a stranger to touch my breasts but not
okay for me to feel violated by that? But I feel for the agents and the difficult
position they are in.
What is at stake is human dignity of passenger and agent alike. There's no dignity in being
inspected like an animal--nor in performing the inspection. Ironically, our fear of terrorism has led us to toss aside this
These security measures are
meant to build a safer community for us to live in, but there can be no
community when there is no respect for the dignity of other people. When the
government mandates acts that in any other situation would get someone fired
for harassment or arrested for assault, we have to ask if we have sacrificed
the freedoms and community that we're trying to protect.