Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TSA: 'Say What?' Woman Arrested for 'Verbal Abuse' Over Patdown of Her Daughter

I don't know much about the details of the latest incident involving a parent's objection to the TSA patting down a female child, but I am seeing what appears to be a disturbing trend. That is, the notion that angry verbal reaction can be deemed a crime.

Look at this report in the Tennessean newspaper of Nashville about the arrest of a 41-year-old woman, Andrea Abbott, in such a case. In particular, note the comments from one Sabrina Birge, sloppily described (will local reporters ever learn specificity?) as "an airport security officer." The italics are mine. (And again, the incident involves a Southwest Airlines gate area)

"(She) told me in a very stern voice with quite a bit of attitude that they were not going through that X-ray,” Sabrina Birge, an airport security officer, told police.

"`No, it’s not an X-ray,' she told Abbott. `It is 10,000 times safer than your cell phone and uses the same type of radio waves as a sonogram.'

“`I still don’t want someone to see our bodies naked,'" Abbott said, according to the police report.

"At one point, Abbott tried unsuccessfully to take a video with her cellphone."

Let's leave aside the risible idea that anyone should have faith in the assurances of a TSA screener about the scientific properties of a whole-body scanner, whether one that uses X-ray or radio waves. The offenses for which the woman was arrested appear to be these: "Stern voice with quite a bit of attitude" and trying to take a video with her cellphone.

Again, we have a dispute that appears to center on an overreach of authority by security officers at an airport, who evidently are allowed to operate in the misguided notion that they are the speech police and that they can prevent someone from taking a video or a photograph as they go about their jobs.

Again, we have a local newspaper feebly regurgitating only what it has been informed by the authorities. The woman was "belligerent and verbally abusive," we are informed.

And how, exactly, is that defined? And where, exactly, is "verbally abusive" listed as a crime?

Obviously, "disorderly conduct" is the usual catch-all for a bad arrest in a dispute. Someone needs to ask the TSA, the reaction-inclined Southwest Airlines and the Nashville airport to explain themselves.



Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Sharkey:

I read your stuff often, but wouldn't want to you think I expect to see each or any of comments published under your blog. In addition to any number of ambiguous policies pursued by DHS/TSA, I am continually amazed that their response to a citizen's legitimate right to ask questions, or to object to roughshod treatment (either physical or verbal) has yet to be defined, refined, and deployed. DHS/TSA always seems to be ten yards behind, with their pants around their ankles.

But then again. DHS/TSA is above answering to the business travel industry, to members of Congress, and any other authority, apparently. They have yet to learn that conspicuous competence is the key to winning public confidence.

(That last line isn't bad... It's a shame no official representing the businss travel management industry will ever say it.)

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe
Amish Curse, Pa

ChefNick said...

I think all TSA workers should have to go through a training academy akin to those for police officers. I don't know exactly what qualifications one needs to have to become a TSA worker but I suspect they're about a half-step above those required to become a bouncer at a night club -- except bouncers don't get to wear special uniforms and have "real" police around to back them up in a "dispute."

If you get into a dispute with the guy who puts oversize luggage onto the oversize luggage conveyor belt, can you be arrested for "verbal abuse?" If you said "Hey, fuck you, man, I paid $4000 for that guitar and I don't appreciate you slamming it down on the belt like that" can you get arrested for "verbal abuse?"

The TSA are granted extraordinary and wholly undeserved powers under the guise of "keeping the public safe" but they have the qualifications of the guy who checks your receipt as you leave Costco. This has been going on since 9/11 and someone, somewhere should put a stop to it.

But thanks for getting the word out, Joe; you should be syndicated by major newspapers and not have to rely on just a blog to expose these over-egoed circus clowns who failed to make the Bobo the Gorilla afternoon show.