The silly concept of “Zero Tolerance” may have started in American schools, but it certainly did not end there. It not only has spread to schools in other countries, what’s the expected result when all those schoolchildren get out of school, and into the Real World?
They practice what they learned, of course! The story, from the 10 October 2004 issue:
ZT in Real Life, Airport Division
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration says it probably won’t prosecute school teacher Kathryn Harrington, 52, of Laurel, Md. She was passing through security at Tampa (Fla.) International Airport when agents pulled her aside for carrying a weapon: a leather strap with tiny weights in each end. “It was a bookmark,” Harrington says. “It’s not a weapon. I could not understand why I was being handcuffed and put into a police car.” She notes she has carried the bookmark through airport security several times without incident, but won’t again. (St. Petersburg Times) …Of course screeners couldn’t recognize it as a bookmark: few of them have ever read a book.
I’ve had quite a bit of email reaction to the story. Some have told me the tagline was “mean,” but far more have written of their utter frustration with jumping through hoops for officious morons. (I’ve indeed seen conscientious, intelligent, and personable screeners. Sadly, who can argue that the few I’ve seen are the norm, rather than the exception?)
Bob in Washington: “On a recent trip I was told I almost set off the metal detector. The only metal I had on at the time was my wedding ring. Isn’t it truly sad that we must remove our shoes and almost everything else just to get on an airplane? Israel has a much larger terrorist problem than we do, and you don’t run into that kind of thing there. The difference: They look for terrorists, rather than weapons.”
Since the last issue I have flown out of London. I didn’t have to take my computer out of my briefcase. They were shocked to hear that we have to remove our shoes in the U.S. I didn’t even have to take the fist-full of coins out of my pocket. And we glided through security with ease.
None of this “almost beeped” stuff that you experienced, as did I on my way out of the U.S. And the U.K. also has been dealing with terrorism for many, many years.
So I agree: the TSA does seem to be concerned with rules when they should be concerned with the security of the airplane; they’ve lost sight of the forest by intensely concentrating on the needles on the trees. I’ve run several articles in True since 9/11 with examples; some of the most insane are here.
I could publish lots of reader horror stories too, but I think the pro-TSA responses are more illustrative. For instance, Gary in Florida, who didn’t like the tagline on the story:
“As a TSA screener who holds a B.A. degree and is retired from the Navy after 20 years as an officer, let me say sir that you are a moron. The corps of TSA screeners is overall highly intelligent (there are exceptions of course) and dedicated to make flying as safe as possible for the public. A large number of screeners have attended college and many hold degrees. Personally I have an extensive library consisting of hundreds of fiction and non-fiction books. So kindly keep your uncalled for, inaccurate and insulting comments to yourself. If we are going to make mistakes I, for one, want to make it on the side of caution.”
Exceptions indeed. One hopes Gary occasionally reads some of those books. When I make a joke about how much cops love donuts, I don’t get cops whining to me about the stereotype. What I have seen over the years is cops working to show that the stereotype is not really true (or, as the case might be, isn’t true anymore).
I didn’t destroy TSA’s reputation: the screeners and their management did. I hope calling me a moron made Gary feel better, but all he did was help prove the point. If only attending college for a bit (or even graduating) proved intelligence or indicated common sense!
And as far as erring on the side of caution, a government agent trampling on our civil rights is a grievous error indeed, and I don’t see them working to avoid that. You can’t protect our “homeland security” by destroying what the country is based on, and to insist it’s possible is folly.
Bruce in New York did a much better job of defending the TSA:
“I love your newsletter, but I have some objections to the continuing TSA bashing. My wife is a TSA screener, and they don’t have any discrimination with the items that are prohibited or not. The St. Petersburg Times got a lot wrong in their story. [The bookmark/book weight] not only resembles a ‘sap’, it could indeed be used as one. You can’t bring large heavy candlesticks, souvenir mini baseball bats, or a nightstick in the cabin, so why should you be able to bring an 8×2 inch piece of leather with lead weights sewn in? I have a knife in my pocket almost every day. It’s possible I might forget that if I traveled by air more. Should it be taken away, and not reported as a possible weapon to the airport police? I think the lesson to be learned has nothing to do with ZT, it has to do with the public’s awareness of what has to transpire to keep our flights and passengers safer.”
I absolutely agree that passengers need to pay more attention, if only evidenced by the number of loaded guns that TSA detects. (Even if they are carrying it legally, they should not only know that they can’t carry it past screening; it’s hard to believe they forgot they’re carrying it at all, which says something about their general level of responsibility. So yes indeed: a great many passengers are also stupid.)
But more to your points: yes, the bookmark could be actually used as a sap. And…? I got plenty of notes from martial arts experts who pointed out that a great number of everyday items — including those not prohibited by TSA — can be used as lethal weapons, such as pens.
You note candlesticks don’t pass; I can fashion a weapon out of the parts of my briefcase that would make much more effective weapons; thanks to the strap, they’d have better range, too. Exactly how many terrorists have succeeded in taking over an airliner with a candlestick, anyway? Or, for that matter, a briefcase?
And yes, I normally carry a pocketknife too, and I remembered to leave it at home. As far as I can tell, you’re suggesting that the police should have been called to arrest me had I forgotten it, and you say the case I reported is not a good example of zero tolerance permeating into the real world? I think you’ve lost your perspective — just as TSA clearly has.
Sadly, TSA does perform a necessary function. It’s because that’s true that they need to do a lot of work to regain the public’s trust and respect. Screeching “you’re a moron!” and running home to momma with tears streaming down their cheeks isn’t the way to do that.
As Bob so eloquently noted, the problem is not weapons; it’s terrorists. TSA as an agency is focusing on the wrong thing! Until they acknowledge that, fix it, and then act like professionals who remember with every single passenger exactly who they are serving (the passengers, if that’s not obvious!), they will continue to be the butt of jokes and snide remarks — and rightly so. They have a lot of work to do to fix their image, and it’s time they got started.
- An Introduction to ZT in Schools
- Just How Ridiculous can ZT Be? THIS ridiculous
- Another Outrageous Example of ZT in Real Life
After reading these pages, ask yourself this question: based on these real-life overreactions, are you sure you’ll never do anything that could be misinterpreted and might land you in jail? Hint: don’t be so sure the answer is yes!
The criminal charges were later dropped, and TSA spokeswoman said “it is likely TSA will not pursue civil penalties.” In other words, even TSA agrees that a bookmark isn’t a weapon.
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