Homeland Fury

By Rachael Roth

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Oliver Mallich/flickr

In 2002, I took a plane to Amsterdam. This was my first time consciously going through customs. When we came back through John F. Kennedy International Airport, I was asked a series of questions; where did you stay? Who were you traveling with? What was the purpose of your trip? A friend’s mother was in line ahead of me.

“Thank you sir, for taking these safety precautions.” She was sincere, nearly in tears.

Her interpretation of these security measures stuck with me. In 2002, I was twelve-years-old. To think that I was grilled at 12, wide-eyed and innocent, should be comforting. If I didn’t get off easy, someone more threatening, older, rigged to a time bomb and doused in napalm, would be screwed. I appreciated the gesture, but I feel that my own privacy and integrity were at times compromised due to a fear that grew out of the Sept.11 attacks. The subsequent uneasiness that accompanied any threat to safety, not just at JFK but at most airports, may stop a shoe-bomber. What did it do to the rest of us? Are these precautions truly in favor of us as travelers and citizens?

When I flew out of Japan two years ago, I saw signs on our way through security with X’s through forbidden travel items — a lighter, a bomb, a bottle of water. Having been in Tokyo with a plethora of Hello Kitty items at my disposal, I picked up a lighter with a Hello Kitty charm dangling off of it. I’m pretty sure Hello Kitty, in this interpretation, was dressed as a panda. The lighter had my name on it. Without thinking, I threw it into my suitcase before boarding the plane.

Minutes later I heard my name over the loudspeaker at the Nagoya airport. At the information desk they told me my suitcase contained a breach of security and in the corner, I could see terminal attendants rifling through my bag.

“I think I know what you’re looking for,” I told them. These people were angry. They were not joking around. Foolishly, I tried to help them look, but my hand got slapped away. Finally they pulled out the lighter. I asked the woman at the information desk to translate for me.

“She just wants the charm,” she told them in Japanese. They handed over tiny Hello Kitty in her panda costume and threw the lighter away, leaving me with strewn socks and toiletries in the middle of the gate.

I was unclear about the Nagoya airport lighter regulation, along with most security measures taken in domestic and international flights in airports across the board. To me, it seemed that isolated instances of disaster brought about nonsensical solutions.

We’re all aware of the heightened security that happened after Sept. 11, 2001. The Ronald Reagan National Airport was not open to full, general aviation until three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the Department of Homeland Security has since dropped $40 billion to improve airport security. After an attempted attack on a passenger jet leaving Detroit in 2009 that threatened the already-in-place security measures, the Obama administration instilled the familiar full-body pat-down.

One of the most intriguing stories I heard on the news this past summer was about a woman who passed through security at the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, stopping only to grab and twist both breasts of a female Transportation Security Administration agent. While I don’t condone groping security agents, I can only assume that 61-year-old Yukari Mihamae was frustrated with the transgressions against her own privacy, enough that it took her to do something extreme and unlawful.

On my latest visit through security at the Logan International Airport on Jan. 12, I was asked to step through what I have discovered, to my horror, is called, a “naked scan.” This was after I had already removed my sweatshirt, scarf, belt and shoes. This device scans a passenger’s entire body, revealing what eGlobal Travel Media calls, “intimate contours.” EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, tried to sue the Department of Homeland Security for violation of passengers’ privacy. According to the Department of Homeland Security, passengers can request, instead, a full-body pat down, and the allegations would be overruled. Passengers who have opted out of a naked scan have reported that the pat-downs are unnecessarily aggressive.

There are no trashcans on the streets of Tokyo and most major cities in Japan, in part because of a series of isolated incidents, such as the 2002 trashcan bomb at the Shinjuku Central Park which left 53-year old Yoshimi Sasaki without an arm and leg. Admittedly, Japan’s city streets are cleaner than most by far, but can an absence of trashcans stop a determined bomber altogether?

In my old high school, two toilets in the women’s room are without a dividing wall after a female student wrote “Blood is yummy,” with her actual blood on the wall in question. This renders the bathroom stall worthless. Removing a wall is not going to quell whatever cry for attention or inner turmoil the perpetrator is experiencing. Why not hold an assembly about resources for students with emotional problems, or on the consequences of defacing property? What does removing a defaced wall or trashcan really accomplish?

Of course I want my country to be safe, but standing naked in a shared bathroom stall with nowhere to throw away the greasy wrapper from my bacon double cheese burger, I feel more vulnerable than ever.

Rachael Roth is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]