"There's something happenin' here, what it is ain't exactly clear---"
When we recently returned to the US the immigration officer in New York who stamped our passports cheerfully said, "Welcome back!" And indeed it was great to be back in the land of the free and home of the brave.
An incident at the airport in Raleigh, North Carolina, however, made me seriously question both the "free" and "brave" parts of this familiar phrase.
After a wonderful visit with family there we were returning to Hoboken to spend time with the rest of our brood. While I was preparing for the usual drill of going through security--shoes off, laptops out and in a separate bin, etc.--I wasn't really paying attention to the TSA guy droning on behind me ("No liquids larger than---").
As I got ready to walk though the apparatus that checks for metal the guy says to me, "SIR, what's that in your front pocket?!" His tone of voice was not conversational. It was like when in the movies a cop says to a perp, "Let me see your hands. NOW!!" When you're hearing this on the screen you think nothing about it. When someone's speaking like that to you, trust me, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Caught off guard and confused, I answered, "My wallet?"
"You have to take everything out of your pockets, sir."
"But my wallet doesn't have any metal in it."
"YOU HAVE TO TAKE EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR POCKETS, SIR!" There was that tone of voice again, only louder and more forceful.
I'm a little rattled now. I've been through a lot of airports, including just days ago in Newark, and nothing like this has ever happened before in my life. So, OK, I take out my wallet and put it in a tray to be scanned.
As I now get ready to go through the metal detector, the TSA guy stops me again.
"SIR, what's that in your back pocket?!"
Huh?? I have no idea what he's talking about. I check my back pockets.
"Um, a piece of paper??"
"SIR, I TOLD YOU YOU HAVE TO TAKE EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR POCKETS!!"
A piece of paper with some notes scribbled on it? Are you %#@*&+ kidding me???
Now I'm totally discombobulated. I put the damn piece of paper in yet another tray and hurriedly walk through the detector to get away from this knucklehead.
The TSA guy on the other side stops me.
"Sir, what do you think you're doing?!"
"Um, walking through the metal detector?"
"Turn around and put your feet where it shows."
"And put your arms up above your head like in the picture."
At this moment I realized I was in one of those full body scanner machines I've read about. In Raleigh and not in New York? Really? Never seen one before. Totally unprepared for the drill I'm going through.
And I just want to be done. I submissively put my feet where they're supposed to go, put my hands behind my head as the picture shows, and it's over.
Except it's not. After all that, when I emerge from the machine the guy tells me to again put my hands above my head. He then proceeds to pat me down around my waist area before finally dismissing me.
After gathering my belongings, putting everything back in my pockets and my watch on my wrist, putting back on my shoes, belt, hat, and coat, putting the computer back in the luggage, we immediately got the hell away from there and proceeded to our gate. I needed to make a phone call before we got on the plane, but when leaving a voice mail I discovered my brain was so agitated I couldn't even put together coherent sentences.
As I sat there going over the chain of events that had just occurred and how it had effected me I got increasingly angry. As I recall the episode now I feel myself getting pissed off all over again.
First of all, why are TSA standards so utterly random from airport to airport? You forget to take off your belt. In some airports the metal detector is triggered; in others it is not. Once Cynthia discovered she was traveling with a large pair of scissors in her carry on. She discovered it--not screeners in the two US airports we'd been through. Why is there a full body scanner in Raleigh, not exactly a hotbed of terrorist activity, and not in New York City?
More importantly, I am an American citizen. I grew up in an era when freedom--civil rights, women's rights, gay rights--was in full blossom. None of these happened without struggle, and in some cases bloodshed and death. But happen they did because of the will and spirit of the people.
Yet now in this same lifetime it has come to this? Where our own law-abiding citizens can be routinely subjected to treatment formerly reserved for suspected criminals? And we just sheepishly keep our heads down and go along?
The government says these procedures are to keep us safe from terrorists. Baloney. I didn't feel safe. I felt victimized. I felt violated. I felt---terrorized. By people whose salaries are paid by my taxes.
No, this isn't about safety. It's about control. In "the land of the free" our own government wants to know where we are and what we're doing at all times. Methodically and ever increasingly it wants to control our behavior. Did you know there is now a law that allows American citizens to be arrested by the military without cause? Imprisoned because someone (who?) thinks you might be a threat?
Don't believe it? Google the National Defense Authorization Act and prepare yourself for a shock.
So in light of all this am I proud to be an American? Absolutely! I love my country and the ideals that it stands for. But, in the case of my episode, I am absolutely appalled that our own government is employing Fascist tactics on its own citizenry. And I am disheartened that the American people have grown so passive? complacent? fearful? that such abominations are not only tolerated but accepted.
What has happened to us? Were those heady times of my youth when freedom reigned the peak of our culture? Is the battle already lost?
God knows I hope not.