Friday, August 11, 2006

Security: The first thing we do, let's search all the lawyers

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. -- Benjamin Franklin, 1755

You know you’re in trouble when an alleged humorist opens with an epigram.

But don't worry: I’m not going to contend that having toothpaste in my carry-on luggage is an “essential liberty.” I just wish more people would keep Dr. Franklin's very true statement in mind. Besides – unlike my Younger Daughter – my life does not revolve around hair care products: The shampoo provided by even the cheaper chain motels is just fine for my purposes, thank you.

On the other hand, notwithstanding the contrary suggestion in the accompanying Jack Higgins cartoon from this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times, it wasn’t vigilance by airport security that unmasked the liquid bomb plotters in England yesterday – it was plain old, dull, boring – and obviously brilliant – police work.

And airport security today surely is better than the stereotype skewered in the 1982 movie Airplane II in which Sonny Bono played the most obvious mad bomber imaginable – and still got on board the ill-fated moon shuttle without serious challenge. But stopping would-be bombers in the airport is cutting things a bit close, isn’t it?

So instead, airport security makes a lot of fat, sweaty men take off their shoes – surely an environmental hazard for those around them, as well as a health hazard for those fat, sweaty men doing all of that unscheduled bending. (Damn you Richard Reid!)

I have a great natural sympathy for fat, sweaty men, being one myself and all. Fortunately for all concerned, I don’t have to travel often.

But the first time I did travel after 9/11, and after the capture of the aforementioned Mr. Reid, was late on a Friday afternoon in 2002. I was catching a plane to Kentucky to join my family, away with Middle Son at a baseball tournament. It was Summer. It was hot. I was wearing a suit. I’d been running to and from court and on one errand or another all day long. I was barely on time for the plane as it was. And I was dog tired.

Thus, instead of complying cheerfully, or at least dutifully, with the request to remove my shoes, in my fatigue, I responded with a smart-aleck response – not particularly witty, you understand, just something along the lines of, “You really don’t want me to do this.”

But they really did.

Now I have noticed, on the few occasions that I’ve traveled since, that whatever other sterling qualities they may possess, the fine people of the TSA are not generally endowed with a sense of humor. Nor were they so equipped on this occasion: I was removed from the line where I was and put in a different line. For special handling. I thought I heard the distinctive *snap* of rubber gloves being pulled on. And it occurred to me, a little late perhaps, that this was neither the time nor the place to make a stand for individual liberty and freedom.

I began to remove my shoes. A security guard was watching closely.

Close enough, I’m afraid, that his eyes began to water as soon as I’d peeled off the first shoe. I was thereafter passed through the line without additional difficulty.

So I’ve learned that compliance with security is necessary, and I know, even if I don’t understand entirely why this is so, that increased security measures make a lot of people feel safer in these dangerous times. And I also knew what would happen yesterday when I went to court.

At the Daley Center in Chicago, Sheriff’s deputies make most visitors go through metal detectors, and they run the purses, bags and briefcases of those people through an x-ray machine. This is not entirely a consequence of 9/11; security measures were initially imposed after a lawyer and judge were shot dead by a disgruntled litigant during a court hearing some years ago. Ordinarily excepted from these measures are lawyers and judges, who carry special ID cards, presumably on the grounds that they are more likely to be targets than perpetrators. The ID cards are, of course, checked when we enter the building. However, since terrorists in London were caught in the process of planning to blow up airplanes with liquid explosives, I was certain that the Sheriff’s police in Chicago would deem it necessary to also search all the lawyers coming into the courthouse, just in case. (And, of course, they did.)

Is the reputation of our profession really sunk so low?

1 comment:

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It's sad that such security is necessary.