A mother, her three year old, and the TSA

airport security

While traveling by air last week to see my cousin get married in Kentucky this Saturday, I saw something at the airport that made my blood boil.

I was waiting longer than usual on the sterile side of the security checkpoint as TSA officers rescanned my backpack and a smaller bag containing my toiletries separately (I suppose they didn’t like how I packed my toothpaste).

Looking over, I saw a young woman and her toddler, an adorable little girl who I would later observe to be extremely bright and inquisitive. The girl was sobbing as the mother held her hand and a TSA officer aggressively patted the woman down. The toddler sobbed “mommy!” in between incoherent words, struggling to articulate her confusion and fear. I knew what she was trying to say: “Mommy, why is a stranger touching you like this?”

Though very young, she knew something wasn’t right about the entire situation. She was confused and scared to see a stranger in uniform groping her mother’s thighs and sides. Something we adults — resigned and jaded — have now taken for granted as routine and necessary, the little girl knew couldn’t be right. Strangers aren’t supposed to touch you like that. The uniforms made it worse. Were she and her mother in trouble? How could they be?

After a TSA officer returned my property to me after searching it without a warrant or reasonable suspicion that I was committing a crime of any kind, I hung around for a minute to observe the mother and daughter. The pat down concluded and the girl leaped into her mother’s arms, still crying, still shaken. I took an escalator toward the gates and waited for the mother and daughter to follow.

“Excuse me, ma’am. I couldn’t help but notice that you got a little extra attention from the TSA today — I’m an independent journalist and I write for a few different publications that don’t have the most favorable view of the TSA:  Could I ask you a few questions about what you just experienced?”

She rolled her eyes in frustration at what had just happened to her and blurted out: “Plastic dog from Walmart.”

“Excuse me?”

She pointed to her large, pink bag containing snacks, toys, and other toddler fare, and I saw sticking out of it, a large plastic, toy dog. “They said the toy dog looked suspicious when it ran through the scanners so I had to get the full pat down.”

Unbelievable. I hadn’t remembered hearing anything about Al-Qaeda’s new tactic: sending middle-class mothers and their three year old daughters to hijack airplanes with plastic dog bombs, so I guess I’m glad the Department of Homeland Security is looking out for us.

I found out the mother, Amanda, was flying with her three year old daughter, Brianna, to visit her family in Houston. I have a cousin with the same name. My blood boiled. I swallowed back a torrent of words churning in my stomach against the obscene stupidity of the post-9-11 national security state.

As I boarded the train to my gate, I heard the girl asking her mother, “Why was that man talking to you?” “He wanted to know why they were patting mommy down up there.”

I still want to know why.

This article originally appeared on The Humble Libertarian.

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