I’ve experienced my share of hassles with incompetent, power-intoxicated airline screeners. But this experience really frightened me. It heralded the very real specter of a police state in America, something I would have thought impossible less than a year ago.
I am a white middle-aged American citizen, so I am used to my person and luggage being searched while young men named Mohammed and Abdullah are passed through with a polite smile. That is politically correct, and I have come to expect it. I have had to take my shoes off to check for bombs so often that I have seriously considered neglecting foot hygiene for a week or so prior to flying in order to exact a small measure of retribution for the inconvenience.
I have observed a wheelchair-bound woman in her eighties being searched as Mohammed and Abdullah strolled by. I watched a terrified eight or nine year old black girl separated from her mother to be searched. Mohammed and Abdullah smiled as they boarded the plane.
None of this prepared me for what I observed at the Atlanta airport this week. A thirty-something white woman was taken from the boarding line to be searched. I remarked to the man next to me (in the hearing of an IQ-impaired federal security guard), “She really looks like a terrorist.” He joked back to me, “I’m sure she’s a terrorist- just look at her.”
The security guard, full of his own importance and impressed with his new badge, shouted, “Now I’ll have to arrest her.” I stared at him, incredulous. “What did you say?” “I’m supposed to arrest her because of what that man said!” he told me.
“You can’t arrest someone for what someone else said!” I exclaimed. “I can do anything I want. This is an airport.” This former rent-a-cop, emboldened by his new status as a federal agent, thought he could trample on the civil liberties of anyone he pleased. Although he didn’t take any further action, he obviously enjoyed making the threat.
I must confess that when the concept of federalization of airport security personnel was first introduced, I came out in favor of it in this column. I assumed that the often rude, slovenly, under-educated security guards would be replaced by professional federal agents. In my ignorance, I imagined well-trained and disciplined retired military, police and intelligence personnel protecting our citizens.
Not a chance. Exhibiting its usual level of incompetence, the government made its first mistake by placing airport security under the Department of Transportation instead of a law enforcement oriented agency. Its second mistake was to hire the same inept guards that allowed 50% of weapons and explosives to get by them away from their former private security firms. Now that they are federal agents, guess what? In recent tests, 50% of weapons and explosives got by them.
But it’s not the incompetence that has me upset today. I’ve come to expect that from government. Our only hope is that the Arabs will be equally incompetent, and that our rent-a-cops turned federal agents will accidentally catch some real terrorists during breaks from harassing innocent citizens.
What has me upset about the incident I described is the potential for turning our free nation into a police state. There are forces in our government who are using the tragedy of 9/11 to advance an agenda that is anathema to most Americans. They want the federal government to have unlimited power over all of us. If they have their way, we can forget about our civil liberties.
My wife Ana lived in Cuba for the first eleven years of her life. In that Communist nation, any citizen with a grudge against a neighbor can simply tell the authorities that they heard the neighbor speak against Castro or the government. That’s all it takes in a police state. One citizen can be arrested on the word of another.
That was the threat that Bubba the security guard presented to the lady in Atlanta. He stated clearly that he was authorized to arrest her based on an uncorroborated statement by a bystander. Does that sound like the start of a police state to you?
While Bubba and his ilk threaten and harass innocent citizens, they are under orders not to “profile” Arabs or Muslims. I have personally observed well over 100 people detained for searches at airports since 9/11; not one of them looked Arabic. Never mind that 100% of the six terrorist attacks on Americans in recent years have been committed by Arabs or Muslims. Never mind that not one attack has been committed by a grandmother in a wheelchair, a nine-year-old black girl, or a middle-aged white man. We must be politically correct at all costs, even if the cost is another airliner full of innocents crashing into another skyscraper.
Mohammed and Abdullah are loving this.