TSA harasses two disabled children in Philadelphia

Reader LeeAnne Clark has given us permission to reprint her account of watching the TSA harass two disabled children at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). As we’ve reported at TSA News many times, the TSA seems to have a penchant for singling out children, the elderly, the disabled, the sick, the weak, those least able to fight back — though they also heap plenty of abuse on other people, as well.

Since Daniel Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer first wrote about the case of 4-year-old Ryan Thomas, who was made to remove his leg braces and practically crawl through the checkpoint, stories of the TSA abusing disabled people have continued to pile up. (Incidentally, contrary to claims in the press, the boy’s father, Bob Thomas, said that the TSA did not apologize to him or his wife, despite the fact that forcing them to remove their son’s leg braces is explicitly against TSA policy. Thomas left his comment at the TSA Blog on February 22, 2010, at 2:52 pm.)

What follows is an edited version of LeeAnne Clark’s words, first posted at Travel Underground:

I witnessed something in an airport that made me sick to my stomach. And that says a lot, because at this point the TSA’s abuses have become so routine that one would think nothing would surprise me, or any of us really. Especially after my own sexual assaults at LAX and OKC, and my elderly disabled mother’s assaults at Burbank and Atlanta. But I couldn’t believe it was happening in front of my own eyes.

Yesterday I saw the TSA harass two young disabled children. I have no photos or video – at the time that I saw it, I was going through the checkpoint myself and my phone was in my bag in a tray. But I assure you that what I saw happened as I describe.

. . . There were two long lines snaking out on either side of the checkpoint, both feeding into a few x-rays and a couple of metal detectors. I noticed in the other line there were two young, handicapped children – they appeared to be around 8 to 10, a boy and a girl, in wheelchairs. They were obviously both physically and mentally handicapped, with two adults (a man and a woman – not sure if they were the parents or caregivers, but I’ll call them Mom and Dad). They had to wait through the long, circuitous line. Not sure why – don’t they routinely allow wheelchairs to skip the lines? But they waited, and arrived at the end of the line right around the same time I did. As I stood waiting to push my bins through the x-ray I saw the TSOs bring them to an unused metal detector/screening area nearby.

And here’s where it gets disgusting. They made each child get OUT of their wheelchair and walk through the detectors – alone! These children were clearly profoundly mentally handicapped, and could not understand what was happening. They made the Dad walk through first, then left Mom to try to get each child out of their chair and through the detector. The girl was more mobile than the boy, who could barely stand on his own . . . but they made him get up out of his chair. Neither of them seemed to want to go anywhere near that big metal box, and it was clear the Mom was having difficulty getting them to understand what they wanted them to do.

The girl finally managed to get through it alone, but meanwhile the boy was having trouble getting through the metal detector at all. I could tell the Mom was asking if she could walk through with him, but they kept shaking their heads no. I’m telling you, that poor boy could barely walk – he appeared to have some form of cerebral palsy, but I’m just speculating. He was standing unsteadily on shaky legs, cowering and clinging to his Mom, who was obviously trying to persuade him to walk forward. Why did they make the kids get out of their wheelchairs at all? Don’t they usually screen handicapped people IN their chairs? I just don’t understand that. The boy looked terrified, and both he and the Mom looked very upset.

And that’s all I saw. At this point I was already through the checkpoint. I’d gathered my belongings and put my shoes back on, and then stood there watching the Mom trying to get the boy to walk, when a burly female TSO walked over to me, stood in front of me blocking my vision and asked me what I was doing. I said “oh, just watching you guys abuse more disabled kids,” and then I walked away because, well, I had to catch my flight. I wish I’d had time to watch the rest of it, and I wish I had more courage and bravado to DO something about it, or at least pull out my cell phone and video it. But I’m just a traveler . . . just an average American with a flight to catch, things on my mind, family to say goodbye to as they caught their flights home. And I had to be at work this morning, so I couldn’t chance getting detained and prevented from flying for “interfering with the screening process.”

And that, folks, is how they manage to keep committing these atrocities: because they have terrorized us to the point where we’re afraid for ourselves if we speak up. I feel sick about it, but I was not in a position to be an outspoken activist at that moment. I was tired and running a bit late, and I just wanted to go home. I can only hope that those kids were allowed to get through the checkpoint without too much more harassment.

I thank LeeAnne for allowing us to repost her account.

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/AshKyd)

  • Chellie

    As the mother of a severely disable child, this just makes me livid. I will not even attempt to travel with my child, because I will go ballistic and probably end up in jail. Congratulations TSA, my world is remarkably smaller because I can’t risk going anywhere while bozos like this is running the show.

  • Though its abuses are system-wide, it seems that Philadelphia comes up a lot in complaints about TSA.

    If I remember correctly, wasn’t it in Philly where
    – 7 gropers were fired for drug use last month
    – 7 more were disciplined for taking payoffs to help others pass their annual proficiency exams*
    – a Blue Glove slipped fake drugs into a young woman’s bag as a “joke” in 2010
    – a lost driver took his Jeep onto a taxiway, right past airport security
    – this incident occured as well as the case you cite of Ryan Thomas
    – dim bulb screener Troy Davis stole five laptops from checked luggage
    – pedophile Priest Thomas Harkins now works as a screener

    Note to al Qaeda: looking for a place where security is more incompetent than usual?

    *seriously? they needed help to pass the TSA test? from what we know of TSA it seems that the average houseplant could qualify to be a screener. how could anyone honestly be afraid of failing one of their tests?

    Question 1: Seeing an attractive woman in line, you should do which of the following:
    A. Call out “Hey Baby! Let Officer Friendly check out your bags!”
    B. Grab some popcorn and head for the back room with the big screen projection of the nudie scan
    C. Put fake drugs in her bag
    D. Put fake drugs and your phone number in her bag
    E. None of the above

    • F. Start going through her purse, find checks, and have the police call her husband, suspicious she was clearing out the bank account

      NOTE: I use PHL a lot and I have to say Philadelphia’s problems are mostly not of the abusive kind – primarily because it is the largest airport which mostly supports the Constitution. It has the smallest number of scanners (1 in Terminal F, and recently a few months ago put some in Terminal C I believe..), so they mostly grope wheelchair bound elderly usually with some random ineffective swabbing for explosives. Passengers who know better avoid Terminals C and F, use the other terminals, and then go to their gate which can be reached from anywhere in the airport.

      It is easy to be 100% metal detector in Philadelphia, which I am thankful for.

      Except for Mr. Pedophile, most of the issues are cheating on tests like you pointed out or other non-abusive impact to passengers.

      I just wanted to clarify that PHL is great for travelers who like the Constitution – the International Terminal (Terminal A) is scanner free as well.

      • With “F” Jeff is referring to another article by Daniel Rubin:


        Daniel Rubin has been one of the rare reporters in the mainstream media who has consistently covered and criticized the TSA. Most of the corporate media is full of TSA apologists.

        P.S. PHL may be mostly scanner-free, but as long as TSA clerks have the power to stop and search you at whim, it’s still no better in my book.

      • RonBonner

        Nothing about TSA is great for those people who like the Constitution.

      • PHL is also my home airport, and (knock wood) I agree that Pistole’s Pervs have been slow to roll out the nudie scanners there. That will undoubtedly change, so enjoy it while you can.

        Even so, that’s a hardware issue. I still maintain that when it comes to the sheer number of boneheaded stunts, PHL (and EWR and JFK) seem to be very high on the list.

        I haven’t studied the TSA labor contract, but the very idea that a pedophile priest could still be employed by an agency that has the power to touch anyone (including children) defies any standard of decency I can imagine. Except the TSAs.