TSA bullies newspaper editor for leaving stuff in pocket

by Lisa Simeone on June 19, 2012

Ah, well, isn’t it nice to know that it’s not just the hoi polloi who get bullied, harassed, and abused by the TSA, but also Congressmen, Senators, state representatives, national journalists, and local newspaper editors?

Columnist Dick Hughes of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon finally got a taste of what the TSA regularly dishes out. And he discovered that the old saw about “be nice to other people and they’ll be nice to you” doesn’t have any teeth when you’re dealing with the TSA.

Flying from Washington, D.C. to Portland, Hughes, an experienced flyer, dutifully emptied his pockets.

Aha! Except he hadn’t.

He committed the unpardonable sin of keeping his boarding pass on him. He picks up the story:

The TSA screener asked whether I’d emptied my pockets; I thought he meant, “Have you removed all metal and electronic items?” So I answered, “Yes.”

I’d misinterpreted his query.

The screener spotted the boarding pass in shirt pocket and came unglued. Screening took a backseat to making an example of me.

“My question was clear!”

Uh, sorry. I didn’t understand.

“I asked if you’d emptied your pockets.”

I’m sorry. I did the same thing as when I went through security at Reagan National an hour or two ago. I honestly thought you meant metal or electronic items. I apologize.

Silly man. Apologies aren’t enough. We must humiliate you, not only to put you in your place, but to demonstrate to other passengers what will happen to them if they dare question our authority.

I handed over my dirty handkerchief and a crumpled napkin from Dunkin’ Donuts. Re-checking every pocket, I found my wallet, which I really had meant to put in the bin with other items.

By now, the security line behind me was at a standstill. I could sense the other passengers’ hostility. I begged to move out of the way so they could proceed. The TSA officer demurred.

He was oddly expressionless. We were not connecting. I tried in vain to ask what he wanted me to do. Clearly, he viewed me as challenging his authority and/or potentially posing a security threat.

Hughes then committed the next sin: he asked for a supervisor. As many people can attest, this request can get you marked for retaliation.

Wanting to get this resolved, I asked for a supervisor.

One came, then the manager. A growing crowd of TSA personnel gathered to watch. With so many folks minding my business, I hoped like heck that an actual terrorist or a fugitive wasn’t using me for a distraction.

I asked the TSA manager what was going on.

“I’ll ask the questions. You don’t,” she informed me.

“Stop being emotional,” she continued, a comment to which there is no good response.

My instant thought was, “I’m not being emotional,” but I dared not say that. She’d already labeled me as disrespectful.

Some of us are familiar with this bullying technique. It’s meant to enforce compliance. It’s like asking “when did you stop beating your wife?” The presumption of guilt is embedded in the statement. There’s no credible comeback. Which Hughes immediately perceived.

“Get your hands out my face!” the manager ordered.

Sorry. May I step back so I’m not so close?

“No! You can’t move.”

Then would you mind moving back so we’re not so close?

“No.”

I tried to hold my hands behind me and keep my voice low. I wondered: If this was how the TSA treated me, what would happen to a person with mental illness or language disabilities. I flashed on such individuals — including a friend’s son — who’d been Tasered to death by police officers.

Wait, gentle reader, it gets better. Not satisfied with trying to intimidate Hughes in front of everyone else, the blue-shirted civil servant next threatened him:

“If you continue to refuse to comply, I’ll call the police and have you taken out of here in handcuffs. Is that what you want?”

No.

If I knew what she wanted of me, I’d gladly comply.

“Are you refusing to comply? Will you comply?”

Now I was really confused as to which question to answer with a no or yes, so as to prevent further misunderstandings. The initial screener already had successfully lied to her — in my opinion — about his conduct. I was in deep doo-doo and confused as to how I’d gotten there.

Yes, I will comply. Just tell me what to do.

Abruptly, the screening continued.

You can read the rest of this sorry tale at the link.

I sent Hughes a note a few weeks ago, back when this happened. I received a reply yesterday. He said he “had hoped to have good news by this point — that the TSA had seen the light.”

But, of course, he’s still waiting. As are we all.

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/NS Newsflash)

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