On occasion, I have to fly on a commercial airliner for business. I almost always depart from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP). When I was growing up here in the 1970’s, GSP was called the Greenville-Spartanburg Jetport. Interstate 85 even had exit signage with “Jetport” listed. As cultivated and cosmopolitan as “International” might suggest, no other word accelerates the heartbeat of a 9-year-old like “Jetport.”
Back then, the terminals did not have walls. Travelers and their friends could drive up to the airline carrier’s designated section of the terminal and walk up concrete steps to an open concrete walkway with a waist-high barrier. If you were 9 years old and lucky enough not to be noticed as you hoisted yourself onto the barrier, you could feel the jet engines’ back blast rush into your face as it departed. You left red-faced and happy.
Those days are long gone and understandably so. The events of 9/11 destroyed much more than the simple innocence of a boyhood fascination with jets. We have traded the freedom to experience a backwash burn for the security of a full body scan.
For reasons unknown to me, I am one of those lucky few that are always pulled aside while enduring the TSA gauntlet and subjected to a pat down of various body parts and appendages. I am not kidding when I say always. I do not fly that much, but since TSA started scans at GSP, I cannot remember a single time that I was not searched by hand.
A couple of years ago, after going through the body scanner, the TSA security officer had me step outside the scanner and face him – not in a room but out among the maze of people. He then pulled up both of the pants legs of my suit and looked at my knees. I almost laughed out loud while recalling a P.G. Wodehouse story about British knees and fascism. Tyrannies may change but humor endures forever.
A few days ago, I was flying out of GSP and a similar incident happened. After going through the full body scanner, the TSA officer had me step over to the side of the scanner, quietly explained that he needed to pat me down, assured me that he would use only the backs of his hands and then put his hands where only a wife or tailor should ever go. Again, I almost laughed aloud – not at the need for security but at what we freedom-loving Americans will endure to try to achieve it.
I was reminded of my TSA experiences during a recent Education Committee meeting where we heard different ideas about increasing school safety. The presenter at this meeting explained how hiring more school resource officers would increase school safety. The school resource officers would need intensified training and upgraded equipment. Oh, and must be fully funded, of course. During this meeting, some legislators also added their desire to install metal detectors in each school across the state and ban AR15 styled rifles from the state.
Imagine a new statewide school police force, emotionally trained and equipped to kill both teen-aged and adult attackers (as they should be since that is their purpose) running our children though a TSA-type screening every morning of the school year. Imagine how that would work on a practical basis and what our children will learn from that experience.
Our children will learn early on that relying on a police state for security is preferable to having freedom. They will learn that being physically handled and emotionally intimidated by the police without reasonable cause is okay because they are told they are safe. This dependence upon a bureaucracy for daily security will be engrained into them a little bit every day because as we all know, repetition aids learning.
Better options to secure our schools are available. Unlike other legislators who want more armed police or armed teachers, I believe that school security can only be increased through a fundamental rethinking of school design. Essentially, I believe that school security is an architectural problem.
Our House Education Committee needs input from architectural firms that have experience in designing high-security buildings. We need better understanding of passive security technology. Ideas about having playgrounds centrally located rather than being outliers of open terrain that turn into killing zones for school shooters. Ideas about the safest traffic pattern design within the school buildings. The list goes on.
Enhancing school design that aids learning while providing the best security that can be constructed will be expensive. It may come down to deciding what we hold most precious – putting $20 million into security construction or into a new football stadium.
Finally, there is the problem that a few acknowledge but refuse to talk about. As a society entertained by violence, a culture diversified into hostile traditions, a nation divided by ever-narrowing ideologies or whatever else America has become, we have lost a unified moral and ethical authority needed to stop school shootings – or even hold on to the freedoms that we inherited. Until we figure out how to rebuild that unity, the rest of our efforts will be just temporary breastworks built during the march of our long defeat.