Still from Democracy Now! coverage of new TSA procedures

Dignity at the airport

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 dignity.

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.

Join the Conversation

Comments

Airport Security

When I left Bozeman MT after a fly fishing trip, I was given a thorough pat down and my CPAP was examined for at least 5 minutes. CPAP's are used primarily by elderly white men for sleep apnea. I found it amusing that 5 of us, all apparently in our 70's, were being given the same goofy treatment by security personnel. We were not traveling together, nor did we know one another. I wonder what government intelligence (oxymoron?) department determined that old white men flying out of Montana were a high risk to air safety.

Security Theater

There is no rationality in this; it's why people are calling this whole game "Security Theater". Everyone knows it's fake and useless but they do it anyway.

Airport security

Fortunately, I'm in a position to easily solve this problem - I will not fly!

Pat-Downs

Our son served as a Marine officer for eight years. During that time he flew extensively, both on duty and for pleasure. He would maintain that the choice of an elderly man for pat-down was not random. Rather, TSA agents routinely select persons who are unlikely to pose a threat. My wife and I, both of us European-Americans in our sixties, have experienced this. The reason is elusive. Whether it is related to quotas or a simple desire of TSA agents to appear diligent without really doing anything is hard to tell. My own hunch is that they choose persons who appear unlikely to object or cause problems.

Just wait

You are crying now about getting a pat down. But if the terrorist gets through with his or her bomb hidden in his artificial arm or in his underwear, you will be whining that the government didn't do enough to keep us safe.
You can't have it both ways. You are in the minority.

Security

It's been said that Israel, with its success rate in preventing terrorism, studies people's actions and demeanor. Having been to Israel, I can say that is true. They never patted us down, although they did go through our luggage and questioned us. I wonder why the U.S. would not invest in training its agents to study human behavior as another weapon in its arsenal?

all because of Binny Laden

It used to be fun to fly; but now it has turned out to be a pain all because of our irrational fear of the terrorists we gave birth to all over the planet. Nearly all current terrorists were our best friends once upon a time until they displeased us and we hastened to christen them as 'terrorists'.

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving (!); why don't you our beloved neighbours to the south celebrate Thanksgiving in early October as the early settlers did?

Join the Conversation via Facebook

To post a comment, log inregister, or use the Facebook comment box.