Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TSA Patdown

I have no power to convince you to call your Senators, change your travel plans, or engage in light civil disobedience. But, damn it all, I'll try.

Last week I read at Coastal Carolina University in beautiful Conway, South Carolina. Thanks to Dan Albergotti for inviting me. I had a great time.

But I didn't enjoy the trip's beginning. At the airport in Atlanta, going through security, I was directed to the space where TSA employees usually work with disabled or elderly travelers. This area is in full sight, between the tandem streams of travelers passing through X-ray machines. So far, no big deal: usually, I'm quickly looked over and waved on. Often, the TSA employees are more concerned with my wheelchair's batteries. Which is understandable: my chair runs on two car batteries. By all means, let's check those out.

But, we live in an "enhanced" era: enhanced interrogations, enhanced patdowns. The TSA employee, a dour, middle-aged man with thick silver hair, informed me that he would be performing a patdown on me, that I could request a private room if I was uncomfortable receiving this in public. That's not needed, I said, wanting to get going.

He was wearing blue latex gloves. Several on each hand. He asked me to lean over. I did. He then stuck his left thumb in my pants, between the waistband and my skin, and ran it all the way around. I was shocked.

"I feel like I have to tell you that is wildly intrusive and offensive."

He sputtered a bit about the safety of American lives.

"That's fine," I said, "I understand the concern. That doesn't change the fact that I feel that what you're doing is totally unacceptable."

He didn't say anything. He crouched in front of me. He asked if any parts of my body were sensitive to pain.

"They all are, I think," I replied. He thought about that for a moment before continuing.

"Starting with your ankles, and moving up, I'm going to examine your legs until I feel resistance."

He began kneading my calves and shins, up over my knees to my thighs, squeezing, until he reached my genitals.

It was like a bad date. With the US government.

After he had thoroughly groped me, he sent me on my way.

This was truly, profoundly egregious and contrary to what we claim are American ideals. In fact, this kind of abuse is corrosive to those ideals. If we accept these practices, then we accept the next wave of violations. We are complicit in the extinguishing of our rights.

Say no, stop flying, call your Senators - you have a lot of choices.


W.F. said...

The only answer is to grope back with all your might. No more "write your congressman" campaigns--it's time for "Goose Your Senator".

No molestation without compensation!

Laurie Clements Lambeth said...

That's awful, Paul. I wonder what protocol the TSA employees are given, and what protocol the guy decided to follow on his own. After all, he paused when you answered his question about sensitivity to pain, as though it didn't mesh with his ideas about disability or paralysis. And this, in the designated area for disabled people. You'd think he'd have some kind of "sensitivity" training. Pardon the pun.

This does seem a violation to me beyond what able-bodied people are subject to; you didn't have the choice to walk through the x-ray scan and were forced to submit to the search.

And what did he think he'd find by your crotch? I mean, how did he think he'd find anything? What if a person in a chair is incontinent, uses a catheter or a diaper, and then there's this other level of mortification.

About 4 years ago, when we took Steve Kuusisto to the airport after he did a reading at the University of Houston, the TSA employee made a fuss about his guide dog and as I remember it, he wanted to separate them and took issue with the dog's chain.

Something should be done. Sorry you had to go through that.


Suzanne said...

I won't be flying.

jessica said...

This seems more like harassment than a security check.

Waer said...

TSA Recruitment Ad: Meet People, Touch People, See People

Beavis and Butthead: Heheheheh. That sounds cool.

Diane Powell said...

I already heard about the "free breast exams" from creepy TSAs out West a few years ago. What's next, free pap smears? That TSA is a disgusting pervert! There is just no other reason for it. Did you get the perv's name? The airlines need to put their colletive feet up the ass of TSA because they are ruining air travel and will doom the entire industry with their lecherous ways. These people are a real JOKE. Take it from someone who has inside information. They pay crap wages and hire crap people. The people are very ignorant. They hire people no one else will even bother with. Some of them have to be borderline retarded. How could we trust our security to such idiots? Paul I'm sorry you had to go through that. I am super pissed off right now. I just finished reading your book, "My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge." I really love your book, both the beauty and the anger contained in the poems.

Toyin O. said...

That is unacceptable, calling my senator.

pia said...

That's beyond gross. Shortly after 9/11 before the TSA I was called out of line and my breasts were examined in full view of everybody--over my bra so I didn't understand how the woman could find anything hidden. I couldn't help asking her if she was enjoying herself. She smiled. It was sick. Delta employees noticed the incidents and were mortified. They gave me free drinks and added to my frequent flier miles. But again that was before the TSA. Because it was so close to 9/11 I never made a big deal about it--I lived in NY and was a puppet of the government for about a year.
Christine Swint has your post on Facebook and I just had to comment :)