December 6, 2005
For Our Safety, Some Profiling Must Be Done
And now a
defense of profiling, by screeners at airport security points.
attention to people who look and act like they might be terrorists
is sensible, not racist. I had hoped that this would have been
accepted by now, but judging by the recent number of people who
have been "deeply offended" by the idea, I guess it
licking was applied to Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who stumbled into
the fray on some artless words about how "some" Arab
men from terrorist-producing countries ought to be given more
intense scrutiny because, well, that fits the profile of the 9/11
terrorists. That makes sense, or is at least a legitimate issue
for debate, without anyone holding his breath and turning red-faced
if Kirk doesn't grovel.
ham-handed denunciations and condemnations, one from a coalition
formed by the Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations, lumped
Kirk together with bigots who illegally "practice discrimination
on the basis of religious, racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation
or national origin." They implied that he was no better than
the bigots who assigned Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. Kirk
should be angered, not cowed, by that kind of exaggeration.
Obama (D-Ill.) patted Kirk's head for being a nice guy but said
his remarks represented a "cavalier" attitude toward
civil rights. One might respond that Kirk's critics have displayed
a cavalier attitude about the safety of American airline passengers.
Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she was "deeply offended" by
Kirk's remarks, and I'm deeply offended that she's deeply offended,
so she should apologize to me. She was deeply offended in front
of a cheering immigrants' rights group, saying that Kirk's kind
of thinking led to the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans.
No, this kind of thinking might have spared nearly 3,000 people
from gruesome deaths from hijacked airplanes.
would Kirk's fuming critics have us do? Not much, judging by the
number of words they devoted to the subject. Here's what the council
had to say: "Across-the-board security measures along with
targeted intelligence, and not shots in the dark, are the surest
ways to thwart terror."
This is what
"across-the-board" security means: A young couple with
1- and 2-year-old kids was heading home after a trip on which
everyone, including the pregnant mother, got sick. The kids hadn't
had anything to eat and their plane's departure was nearing. At
the security checkpoint, they were pulled out of line, and everything--zippers,
compartments, stroller, car seat and diaper bag--were inspected.
The mother began sobbing in frustration over being stuck at the
airport with hungry, sick and overwrought kids. The next person
in line was so "deeply offended" that he demanded of
the manager why the family couldn't be let through. Sheepishly,
the manager said he had no choice. Having one-way tickets (because
they began their trip in one city and ended it in another) meant
the screeners had to check everything, including baby shoes, for
explosives, as if this couple would blow up their own kids.
It happened to my daughter and her family more than a year ago,
and I hope that screeners since have become more selective. Bureaucratic
inflexibility that requires a search of baby shoes is a waste
of time and money.
Homeland Security said 4-inch scissors and 7-inch screwdrivers
now would be allowed on board, apparently because screeners were
spending too much time confiscating knives and screwdrivers. I
don't get it, but officials say they can better concentrate their
resources without looking for these weapons, and I hope that's
they said, cockpit doors are locked and lots of air marshals are
on board, so fear not. That's probably not much comfort for a
passenger or flight attendant with a 7-inch screwdriver at their
throat, held hostage by a terrorist demanding entrance to the
flight deck. Will the answer from within be, "Sorry, bud,
a balance must be struck between passenger security and civil
liberties. The screeners have a tough enough job striking that
balance without being flogged with irrational, ideological dicta.
Coming down entirely on the side of no profiling is wrong and
itself is a threat to everyone who flies. That's something that
people have a right to get upset about, without being stamped
Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and consultant. E-mail: