You may think LaWanda and her 43,000 blue-gloved colleagues at airport checkpoints couldn’t sink any lower than humiliating a little boy wearing braces on his legs. Or forcing a woman to stand on her sprained ankle, thereby fracturing it. Or yanking the crutches from a passenger crippled by polio and threatening to charge her with assault for reflexively grabbing at them — after ordering her to drop her trousers (not to worry: they promised to shield her privacy with a sheet, sorta like the whole-body scanners that blur our faces while strip-searching us).
Ah, but you underestimate LaWanda et al. These brutes boast a limitless reservoir of cruelty — as Nadine Hays, her elderly mother, and a friend who was helping to care for the aged lady discovered at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, CA, last April. Before our public servants finished with them, Mrs. Hays would be in jail, her mother in emotional and physical distress, and her friend in tears at the savagery visited on them.
Mrs. Hays hoped to take her mother, Eleanor Albrecht, to a grandson’s wedding in Nashville: "I … thought of my mom, who at 93 years of age will probably not see any of her other unmarried grandchildren get married. I had to get her to this wedding." She was right: Mrs. Albrecht died last month.
The Almighty blessed me with four grandparents who lived into their nineties. I know first-hand how hard it is moving folks that old from a rocker to the dinner table, never mind cross-country. Compounding the challenge were the usual nonagenarian infirmities — dementia, diarrhea, dehydration — from which Mrs. Albrecht suffered. And so Mrs. Hays packed a cooler with snacks that would soothe and sustain her mother during their flight: "milk to make her specially formulated protein drink, grapes, sliced cheese, salami, cottage cheese and applesauce."
Astoundingly, this doesn’t violate the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) endless and silly prohibitions on what supposedly free citizens may carry onboard planes. When it comes to "persons with disabilities and medical conditions," the agency ditches its paranoia about exploding Ensure and Evian to allow "liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels… in volumes larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml)."
So the astute Mrs. Hays was unpleasantly surprised when the screener at the checkpoint "started removing items from the ice chest saying u2018You can’t take this, you can’t take this.’ … I told her the food was for my 93-year-old mother (I pointed to her) and that she had special needs; this did not change her mind. I immediately asked her for her supervisor. Her supervisor came over and agreed that none of the items could go on board."
Mere arbitrariness and inhumanity seldom satisfy the TSA’s goons; sure enough, these two added robbery. They "tossed everything back into the ice chest and started to walk away with it." They even confessed their larcenous intentions when Mrs. Hays protested their stealing: "The supervisor looked at me with scorn and said … that they were going to confiscate the entire ice chest."
Our heroine reacted with the outrage appropriate to theft, especially when it happens in broad daylight to items necessary for a parent’s well-being: she reached for her property. "A u2018tug of war’ over the ice chest proceeded…," she says. "[A]t one point I noticed the agent look up to her supervisor and give her a smirk like this was really funny! I finally gave a very hard pull to the ice chest, got it away from the agent, walked over to the trash can, [and] dumped all of the contents into the trash…"
She then left the checkpoint, mistakenly supposing that was the end of it. After all, the TSA had won, hadn’t it, protecting American aviation from an old lady’s cottage cheese and applesauce? But no. The horror continued at the gate: when "the American Airlines employee" saw Mrs. Hays and her party approaching, she "closed the glass doors. When I said that we needed to get on the plane she said, u2018You’re not boarding this plane…. With what just happened you are a threat to my passengers and I won’t allow you to board.’" In vain did Mrs. Hays plead her mother’s poor health and discomfort.
You might assume we’ve reached the zenith of lunacy, heartlessness, and sheer evil. Alas, dear reader, you again underestimate aviation’s gulag. No situation is ever so destitute of humanity that cops can’t wring a few more barbarities from it. And bingo, along came several to arrest Mrs. Hays. On what charge, you ask? Ministering to her mother? Preventing a crime, i.e., the theft of her property? No: battery. The TSA’s supervisor asserted that Mrs. Hays "struck [her] in the arm with a closed fist."
Thank God, whatever instincts cops possess completely passed me by. I don’t itch to Taser expectant mothers; I long to cheer, not ticket, cars doing 32 MPH in a school zone. But even I would have noticed that the bunched and excited audience a cat-fight always draws wasn’t crowding the checkpoint when I arrived moments after the alleged brawl. I might also have asked the few witnesses gathering their belongings after the TSA’s warrantless searches whether they had seen Mrs. Hays punch anyone. And then, glancing overhead to confirm that yes, the ubiquitous surveillance camera was duly recording events, I would have asked to view the tape.
Not Burbank’s Finest. They listened as employees of a bureaucracy notorious for its lying lied. Then they arrested Mrs. Hays, cuffed her, and inflicted further indignities (including a strip-search as well as denying her a chair while booking her despite her arthritic knee). In all this sorry mess, we long for just one gentleman, a single person of goodwill, courage and integrity, to stand against the bestial madness, to protest the senseless, vicious abuse of a lady and her ancient mother, to rescue them from these sadists, or, at the least, to extend some small comfort. The closest we come is a "female officer" who finally agrees to handcuff Mrs. Hays less painfully.
Believe it or not, Leviathan actually brought this travesty to court, though not until this week. On Tuesday, a judge dismissed the charges against Mrs. Hays — provided she "stays out of trouble" (sic for "doesn’t tick off any bullies with badges") for the next six months. Apparently, he was too busy scolding this exemplary woman to reprimand the TSA’s lying lackeys, the callous coward at American Airlines who effectively robbed Mrs. Hays of her ticket, and the cops who arrested her without cause. Nor did he suggest, much less require, them to compensate her for the $15,000 and stress this nightmare cost.
Savaging women, preying on the weak and elderly, punishing decency, kindness, and all that’s civilized while glorifying power … more and more, the Warriors on Terror chillingly imitate their mentors.
Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.