Tags: Fix | What's | Wrong | the | Airport: | Start | Profiling

Fix What's Wrong at the Airport: Start Profiling

Wednesday, 06 October 2004 12:00 AM

In my town, Los Angeles, where three-quarters of all violent crimes are committed by young minority men, it is not a question of racism but rationality, and survival, as former Chief Bernard Parks, himself African-American, explained to me more than once.

At the airport, we waste valuable time and resources searching middle-age American born white women - with Secret Service clearance, no less - on their way to the vice presidential debate.

I stood in one security line for 15 minutes. When I got to the front of the line, the TSA official, who could barely speak English, looked at my boarding pass and told me to go to the back of another long line.

I had given a speech the night before in New Jersey, after flying in that morning from Los Angeles; after Cleveland, I had another speech to give in Connecticut; then on to St. Louis for the next debate; then back to Los Angeles for the weekend; then Colorado for a speech; then Arizona for the final debate.

This is how I lived 20 years ago, when I really was young. I wanted coffee, not another line.

I asked the woman why she was sending me to the back of another line. She didn't answer. I didn't go. We don't do searches in this line, someone else finally told me. Why didn't anyone tell me? No answer.

The least she could do was take me to the front of the other line. I was making too much trouble. Fifteen more minutes in line. No coffee.

I finally got to the front of the next line and was ordered to take a seat. I don't want to sit down - I want to know why I'm being searched. The airline chose you, I was told. Wrong. The airlines don't come up with the criteria, I said.

We have a problem here, I heard one official say to another. We have a woman with a bad attitude, another said. Call for re-enforcements.

At this point, I had asked two questions, gotten no answer to one and a wrong answer to the other, and made one point: that I was neither a terrorist nor a likely terrorist, and that I was on my way to Cleveland for the vice presidential debate.

What's the problem here, the boss demanded, as a new group of officers surrounded me, and the woman searching me felt my bra and my breasts. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

If I weren't me, I actually would have been scared. I wondered what they would have done at that moment if I'd been a young black male. Engaged in a little bit of profiling? Taken me to a room somewhere in the airport? Arrested me for my "attitude"?

The fact is, I was searched because between last week's debate in Miami, and this week's in Cleveland and St. Louis, and next week's in Phoenix, not to mention my two speeches, I am traveling on three or four different airlines in these 10 days.

My itinerary runs about four pages, and technically, I have about five one-way tickets. Asking me, or looking at the full itinerary, takes about two minutes.

The search took about 15, the lines another half-hour. I looked at the line slowly moving through. There must be someone who is potentially more dangerous here than me.

The head of security agreed. It's all the fault of the ACLU, he explained. They make us do it this way.

My friend Nadine Strossen, who is the president of the ACLU, would be surprised to find out how much power she has.

I myself am a former president of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and was a member of the National Board of the ACLU. But I still don't know why a useless search of me rather than a carefully tailored screening of others more likely to be engaged in terrorist activity protects civil liberties, much less airline passengers.

When I landed in Cleveland, I learned that half the big-shots on the Washington flight had also been subjects of the "big search." They had one-way tickets, too, since most of them are headed to St. Louis from here. Lots of time wasted today. Hopefully no terrorists slipped through while they were searching journalists.

The top guy at Newark was laughing with me by the end. What can I tell you, he said. No way in the world I'd search you if we were given any choice in the matter. The system makes no sense, he said. Tell Dick Cheney if you see him. We're not going to win the war on terror this way.

As I turned to leave, he added: You must be a conservative. Not me. The conservatives are the ones who put this crazy system into effect. It took Nixon to go to China. It will take liberals to fix what's wrong at the airport.

COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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In my town, Los Angeles, where three-quarters of all violent crimes are committed by young minority men, it is not a question of racism but rationality, and survival, as former Chief Bernard Parks, himself African-American, explained to me more than once. At the airport,...
Fix,What's,Wrong,the,Airport:,Start,Profiling
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2004-00-06
Wednesday, 06 October 2004 12:00 AM
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