The first time I was subjected to a full body pat down was 25 years ago, in Detroit, when I went home with a college buddy. We were standing in line for an open-to-the-public party some friends of his were hosting in downtown Detroit when I saw two huge guys with magnetic wands professionally frisking the people in line in front of us. I’d never seen anything like this back in my native South Carolina, nor in the nightspots me and my college pals frequented in Atlanta.
The guy who searched me was thorough. Even though I’d watched him do the same thing to the others in front of me, it was still hard for me to believe that I, a mild mannered kid from the suburbs, had to go through this. As mechanical as the security guy’s movements were, as anonymous as I was to him as a non-Detroit native, it still felt as if every tap of the palms of his hands against the crisply pressed slacks and shirt I wore were personal. It took me twenty minutes to get over the feeling that something was crawling over me. It wasn’t until later in the evening, when I saw some menacing looking guys across the room that I was glad we had all been searched. And even now, when my college buddies and I get together, I always manage to bring this story up, usually exclaiming loudly “dude, that’s the first time I was ever frisked in my life!”
The second time I was aggressively patted down by security guards, it was years later at an Atlanta nightspot. I was apprehensive, but not surprised, since the Buckhead area had begun to see its share of the city’s violence. The men doing the frisking were larger, and their technique was less precise than their counterparts had been in Detroit years before, but this time, I wasn’t incredulous that I had been physically searched so intimately by a stranger. In fact, by the time I handed my twenty dollars to the person collecting the cover charge, I’d stopped thinking about it entirely.
Since then I have endured several different variations on this theme, most of them overly reliant on the power of the metal detector security wand to reveal concealed weapons or contraband. Because if you went to predominantly black late night spots in the late 80’s and the 90’s in Atlanta, this was their protocol. It probably still is if a club’s crowd is young enough and edgy enough for the owners to take precautions. Some security guards or bouncers were better at it than others, but by then you knew it wasn’t personal, and if it was going to contribute to your peace of mind and allow you to have a good time without worrying about any dance floor fireworks, so be it.
For many of these people in the nation’s airports this week who will experience being frisked for the first time, it will be as much a psychological violation as it is a physical one. Subliminally, to be frisked is to be the subject of a police procedure – in essence, to be seen as a potential criminal, a latent wrongdoer.
This latest indignity Americans are being forced to suffer in airports across the country at the hands of the Transportation Safety Authority, an organization we all accepted as necessary after September 11t,h becomes more than a little ironic when you juxtapose it against the tableau of the original Thanksgiving dinner, when the Englishmen who were about to starve to death were rescued by the native Americans, native Americans they would soon be killing by the thousands a few years later.
There are terrorists right now waiting for the US to stop checking “average Americans” - white people - and begin racial and ethnic profiling so they can deploy blond haired, blue eyed human bombers. Comparing the U.S. system to the Israeli system is a waste of time – deploying the tactics used to protect a sum total of seven Israeli airports in the four hundred and fifty terminals we have stateside in a manner that would actually get the two million passengers a day who fly in the U.S. to their planes on time would cost much, much more than we are willing to pay. The National Opt-Out Day movement, which encourages fliers to “opt-out” of being scanned and request a pat down, may have good intentions but will undoubtedly add delays and increase the tensions to the boiling point on the busiest travel day of the year.
It’s a good thing I’m not president of the United States, with real problems between North Korea and South Korea to think about at 3 am, because I would give the TSA the weekend off, then stare straight into the TV camera in the East Room, and tell the whiny American public “good luck flying this Thanksgiving.” Thankfully, we have someone in charge of the country who understands that it’s not his job to cowtow to the public’s every outcry over a temporary inconvenience, especially when he and the executives at the TSA, tasked with keeping Americans safe, are probably looking as I write this at classified communications describing the latest plots to blow up a U.S. commercial plane between now and Christmas.
I’m an unabashed Obama supporter, but there’s no way around acknowledging that his administration could have done a much, much better job of introducing these changes to the American public. The TSA procedures are far from perfect. The TSA employees, most of whom are doing the best they can with what they have, cannot gain the level of FBI agent expertise overnight, especially not with the amount of money allocated to their agency. And I’ll bet most of you are really glad that I’m not president, because truth be told, you would be scared to death to see unmanned airport security gates.
The best way for Americans at the nation's airports to be patriots today?
Have a lot of patience.