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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

WHAT I SAW: National Security or National Disgrace?

Bob Meyers by Bob Meyers 0 comments

Sometimes you see things that are just disgraceful.

I was at Dulles Airport last week on my way to the Mexico City International AIDS Conference. There was a man ahead of me having difficulty clearing security. He was in his late 70s or early 80s, very thin and possibly disoriented. He had used a wheelchair to get this far, and he steadied himself with a cane. Every time he crossed through the screening devices, though, he set off the alarm. The airport security guards shouted and gestured for him to take off his belt, which he did, and then his pants fell down. The thinness of his mid-section indicated he may have been entered the stage close to dying. He pulled his pants up and held them in place with his hands. This time they yelled and gestured for him to take his watch off, which he did, but then his pants fell down again. He pulled his pants up and shuffled through the security system, but still set off the alarm. He couldn’t use his cane, because it had been separately put through the horizontal screening devices and was on the other side of the barriers. He no longer had a belt, no longer wore his watch, didn’t have keys in his pockets and was in his stocking feet. Finally, one of the guards peeled off his wire frame glasses (DUH), from right ear to left ear, he went through the screening device, and at last he was deemed safe enough to enter the secured area of the airport. Who knows if his glasses will ever fit again.

It seemed to me that the guards didn’t speak English. They communicated by yelling and pointing. I didn't understand them and I was next in line. It was also obvious that the gentleman was too disoriented to understand whatever language they were speaking.

People who travel a lot get angry at the delays and the procedures. That's understandable, but it's still focused on us -- the people themselves who get inconvenienced. If the old adage is true -- don't get in an argument with people who buy ink by the barrel -- then let me substitute digital type for lead type and express anger on behalf of someone too disoriented to speak for himself. Journalism has long filled this function.

If this is the way we protect our airspace, we have turned the job over to minimally trained people who can only respond to a buzzer. We have turned over to them our basic dignity as well. What I saw was disgraceful.