As Americans celebrated their freedom this Fourth of July, headlines graphically proved how diminished that liberty is. Hannah Cohen, 18 years old and severely disabled from a brain tumor, sued the TSA and local cops for beating her bloody. Hannah’s “crime”? She had neither understood nor complied with their orders when trying to board a flight the year before.
In June 2015, Hannah and her mother, Shirley, were returning home from St Jude’s Medical Center. Hannah’s tumor and the radiation treating it have left her “partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed, and easily confused….” Not surprisingly, such “substantial limitation[s are] obvious on sight.” No one could have mistaken Hannah for a healthy passenger as the Cohens approached the Transportation Security Administration’s checkpoint in Memphis, TN.
Hannah wore a shirt with sequins on it. Those metallic bits triggered the TSA’s scanner. “‘You could see on the screen what it was pointing out,’ Shirley said. …Agents told Hannah they needed to take her to a ‘sterile area’ where they could search her further. She was afraid, Shirley said, and offered to take off the sequined shirt as she was wearing another underneath, but a female agent laughed at her. … Shirley … [explained to] a supervisor standing nearby. ‘She is a St Jude’s patient, and she can get confused…’” In response, the TSA summoned “’armed guards.’”
Those “guards” grabbed Hannah’s arms, further scaring her. “’I tried to push away,’she said. ‘I tried to get away.’”
But “…in the next instant,” Shirley recalled, “one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor. There was blood everywhere…” The heartrending picture Mrs. Cohen snapped of her daughter documents that ubiquitous blood as well as Hannah’s terror and anguish.
Tragically, this incident was neither isolated nor a misunderstanding. Far too many sick, elderly, and otherwise vulnerable victims have endured similar horrors at American airports. Worse, not all of them have lived to tell about it.
In 2005,the TSA’s air marshals killed a 44-year-old Christian missionary suffering from manic depression. Rigoberto Alpizar, jittery and upset, had tried to disembark from a flight preparing to leave Miami, FL. Two marshals followed him off the plane and shot him in the jetway. They claimed he was shouting about a bomb. Other passengers denied that, insisting they heard the word “bomb” only from the police who later questioned them.
To be fair, most of the TSA’s prey doesn’t wind up bloodied or dead. They deal instead with crushing and very public humiliation. Just ask Thomas Sawyer. A bout with cancer of the bladder pushed him into the TSA’s hands—literally. “’Evidently the scanner picked up on my urostomy bag, because I was chosen for a pat-down procedure. … [E]very time I tried to tell them about my medical condition, they said they didn’t need to know … One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal … but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.’” No wonder Mr. Sawyer was so “absolutely humiliated” he “couldn’t even speak … They never apologized. They never offered to help …”
Comply Or Else
The TSA’s ferocity extends even to children, including sick or disabled ones. Four-year-old Ryan Thomas was “born 16 weeks prematurely. His ankles are malformed and his legs have low muscle tone.” He required braces to walk. When his parents tried to fly with him, the TSA insisted that they not only remove his braces after the metal detector beeped but that he walk through the machine without them. Nor did his father’s protests avail (“I told [the TSA’s supervisor], ‘This is overkill. He’s 4 years old. I don’t think he’s a terrorist'”).
Little girls fare no better. Lucy Forck’s parents hoped to introduce their 3-year-old daughter to Mickey Mouse. But Lucy’s spina bifida confines her to a wheelchair. That allowed the TSA to traumatize her until, “weeping uncontrollably,” she finally screamed, “I don’t want to go to Disney World!” Adding insult to injury, the TSA also “confiscated Lucy’s stuffed toy, ‘Lamby’ … ‘She was crying for her stuffed animal which they wouldn’t let her have for the longest time,’ [Lucy’s father] said. ‘It’s only about a half foot long … but she loves it.’”
What has happened to Americans that we tolerate such savagery against the weakest among us? Does terrorism so menace aviation that children in wheelchairs must forfeit Lamby while manic-depressive passengers are gunned down in jetways?
The officials responsible for the TSA continually assure us that it does; other sources dispute that. But even if the threat were as perilous as self-interested bureaucrats contend, does that excuse the TSA’s mortification of patients with urostomy bags and its brutalizing half-blind, half-deaf teens? Does fear of terrorism—or of anything else—justify gross inhumanity?
The Pat Down
The TSA’s cruelty towards sick, injured or elderly passengers is only one of its sins; its ordinary policies and practices are every bit as immoral. Consider the agency’s notorious “pat downs.”
As the TSA itself admits that it “has used pat downs since … 2002.” But it never concedes that they are indistinguishable from sexual assault, though neither the TSA’s employees nor passengers can tell the difference. Last year, when “two … screeners at Denver International Airport … were discovered manipulating passenger screening systems to allow a male TSA employee to fondle the genital areas of attractive male passengers,” the District Attorney couldn’t pursue charges because none of the eleven victims had complained.
Test after test demonstrates that the TSA can’t find the weapons and explosives on passengers that supposedly justify its existence. And independent experts in security condemn not only “pat downs” but the agency’s entire rigmarole as hopelessly ineffective: “Most of the layers of security are little more than illusions reinforced by a government agency that feeds off the paranoia and fear of the masses. Doing away with them would make America’s transportation systems no less safe.”
And far more humane. If we haven’t abolished the TSA for its incompetence, let’s do so for its immorality.