Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting the Constitution through security

This is the first in what I hope will be a periodic series of guest-posts.... --t


I am one of many millions of Americans who, like Dick Cheney, have a defibrillator/pacemaker implanted in their chest. The neat little device not only miraculously regulates your heartbeat and, if necessary, shocks you out of arrhythmia (mine has never fired, but others have told me it feels like getting kicked in the chest by a horse), it also manages to throw off the usual rhythms of airport security. Since it’s metal, the defibrillator sets off the detector, but you can’t very well remove it and put it in the gray tray. Not unless you want to all get all “priest from the Temple of Doom” on their asses.

The required alternative is to go through a pat down. Now that I’ve had perhaps a hundred of these, I could probably run the training session: 1. Check the passenger’s boarding pass. 2. Tell her or him to stand on the mat with the two footprints. 3. Tell her or him to spread their arms. 4. Ask them if they would prefer a “private screening.” 5. Inform them when you will be “touching sensitive areas” and that you will “be using the back of my hand.” And so on.

I find airport security, and particularly the post-9/11 version of airport security, extremely troubling and pointless. So I decided a few months ago to get some t-shirts made with the Fourth Amendment printed on the front and back. For a while, I didn’t feel like I was up to wearing them. What if I got stopped? (Sometimes I said to myself, “This trip is too important to wear it.”) What if people asked questions and I was tired and didn’t feel like talking? I have been traveling a lot and not enjoying it very much.

Anyway, I finally got up the nerve to wear the shirt a couple weeks ago. I found it strange that I was so nervous and self-conscious about wearing the Constitution. Yes, the shirts are not very fashionable and rather wordy. They demand a lot from the public. But more than that, I felt like I was doing something wrong – like I was getting the Constitution through security.

All in all, the trip from Baltimore to Baton Rouge and back again was pretty uneventful. Some passengers commented on the shirt – the completely drunk woman who sat next to me on one of my flights read it out loud and said: “OK! OK!” Other comments from passengers and people working the food places at the airport were mostly positive. When I went through security the first time, a TSA guy running the checkpoint, who from his accent seemed to be a first generation immigrant, tried making conversation: “Hmm … De Fourdth Ah-mednt-ment.” Out of nowhere and to my own surprise I said, “Yeah. This tells you why all of this is illegal.” He didn’t seem to care much. But as I spread my arms in the little fishbowl area among the scanners, his underling did give me an especially brisk pat down.

Dustin Howes is currently Assistant Professor of Political Science at St. Mary's College of Maryland and will join the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University in the Fall. His first book, Toward a Credible Pacifism: Violence and the Possibilities of Politics, is forthcoming with SUNY Press. He has published in International Studies Quarterly, has an article forthcoming in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and wrote the lead essay in the interdisciplinary volume, Ruminations on Violence (2008, Waveland Press).


Mike said...

I was thinking of doing something similar. I admire your courage, as you can really put yourself out there when standing up for principles.

Keep it up!

Best Regards,
Mike Bronner

Ed said...

Ya know, with a little graphic design and some irony, you might have yourself a great niche product! I'm serious!

Anonymous said...

Hey Ted: Nice Shirt. Got one for Lauren? I think the previous comment is on target. (sell them at Target!)

Troubling, but not pointless. The point is to keep everyone scared about the "terror threat," to draw attention away from more serious problems, like the assault on civil liberties. As a deterrent though, I suppose it is pointless.

Paul K.

DEHOWES said...

Thanks for the comments folks. Also, I should note that apparently a lot of other people like wearing the 4th amendment too. I made the shirt at a site called Uberprints, but a quick google search shows quite a few variations on it.

Ted Striphas said...

To respond to Paul's comment: it is a sad day, I think, when one must feel intimidated by asserting the most fundamental law of the land--or not even asserting as much as simply acknowledging it. The fact that Dustin was unnerved by wearing his shirt is evidence of just how important the "social contract" dimension of law really is.