My Theory of TSA Arrest Powers, By Mike Elk (Mr.)

Politics & Current Events

What could be worse than a self-righteous TSA agent?

Answer: A TSA agents' union advocate.

One such arrives, dripping with angry entitlement on behalf of genital-pokers and prosthesis-fondlers everywhere, via In These Times. His name is Mike Elk, and he is concerned, very concerned, on behalf of our nation's TSA agents:

“A lot of people take this job very seriously—any vagina into which I stick my fingers could be my last,” said Heydrich Thomas, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) baggage screener who works at New York City's JFK airport and is also local union leader.

OK, OK, Thomas didn't actually say that in Elk's article — even though he may as well have. Thomas said "any bag I open could be my last." That prospect deeply concerns Mike Elk (Mr.), who emphasizes that the many guns TSA agents find every week (to say nothing, one supposes, of the many they don't find) illustrates the "dangerous nature of their jobs." Oddly, Mike Elk offers no evidence whatsoever that any TSA agents have actually been injured the course of searching Americans — just as the TSA offers no evidence that its search procedures has actually halted any terrorist attacks.

What are Mike Elk's more specific concerns? Well, he's upset that some TSA "supervisors are former military members who create a hostile work environment for employees." You know, military members — bad people. Bad people who, despite potentially having some relevant experience and training in leadership and threat detection as a result of a military background, have very little regard for the feelings and dignity-rights of the sort of people who are recruited via pizza boxes into positions of authority over strangers. Mike Elk is also very concerned because TSA agents tell him that they are being brutalized by uppity Americans:

TSA employees told In These Times that on a daily basis, workers are shouted at and have obscenities hurled at them by airline passengers upset for following TSA search procedures. Several workers complained that on several occasions airline passengers had physically assaulted TSA workers, but the passengers were allowed to board flights because TSA screeners are unable to arrest passengers who assault them.

Note that Mike Elk believes that (1) TSA agents are telling the truth about being assaulted, and (2) TSA agents understand what "assault" means, not to mention (3) we should give a shit about citizens cursing at polyester-clad strangers empowered by the federal government to grope their children. Some of us are more skeptical on each of those points. After all, we know that TSA agents think that reciting the Fourth Amendment is "disorderly conduct," that objecting to a government employee sliding her fingers between your labia is "defamation" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress," that being in the same aisle as brown people is "reasonable suspicion," that a small toy hammer used as a comfort object by a severely disabled man is a "weapon," and that traveling in the United States of America is a "privilege." So you'll pardon me, Mr. Elk, if I question both TSA agents' veracity and their grasp of legal terminology like "assault."

What does Mike Elk (Mr.) want, anyway? Well, he seems to want to give TSA agents more power. Specifically, he wants the United States to confer upon TSA agents the power to arrest Americans:

TSA cannot legally arrest or detain power under powers granted to it by the federal government; in order to make arrests, TSA workers must call local police situated in the airport.

TSA workers' inability to detain or arrest people also hinders their ability to protect airlines in general. “My job is to stand in the exit doors that passengers from arriving flights are leaving. I am supposed to stop people from entering the airport through those doors, but if somebody tries to run through those doors, all I can do is yell at them to stop and call the police,” said one TSA employee who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job.

If they only had that power, TSA agents could feel swell again. They could arrest people themselves for "assault" and "disorderly conduct" and for having sequential checks or carrying too much cash or for generally failing to respect their authority, rather than waiting for police officers trained (sort of, occasionally) in crime detection and law enforcement.

What else does Mike Elk want? Well, he wants Americans to adjust their priorities. Just as the TSA wants Americans to return to the days of unquestioning compliance, Mike Elk wants Americans to focus not so much on the fact that TSA agents are making money by subjecting them to demeaning and largely pointless searches, but on the fact that it's an unpleasant job, and agents need a better contract:

While there has been a very high degree of concern among progressives about the search policies of TSA, the often brutal working conditions of 44,000 people charged with protecting our airports have largely gone unnoticed. If those conditions had received as much media attention as the search procedures they are charged with implementing, it's possible America's newly unionized airport screeners might have had a first contract by now.

Damn those selfish Americans! Damn them for thinking that TSA agents are making money by subjecting Americans to unwarranted abuse in the name of insipid security theater! Damn them for thinking that TSA agents across America are drunk with power, largely incompetent to conduct their mostly symbolic job, and subject to very little scrutiny from a mostly canine news media! Oh, won't somebody think of the gropers?

Well, Mike Elk, I have thought about it. I've thought about the plight of people who have decided that it's okay to take a paycheck to promote the security state, advance the cause of unquestioning compliance with government demands, demean travelers without just cause, and stand in as feckless scarecrows. I've thought considerably about it. And now I invite you to examine my wellspring of sympathy, and do so methodically and carefully.

I'll tell you just where to find it. You're going to need those gloves.

h/t Balko.

[Title reference for the Python-impaired]

Last 5 posts by Ken White

34 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Hal_10000  •  Jan 3, 2012 @7:37 pm

    "And now I invite you to examine my wellspring of sympathy, and do so methodically and carefully."

    Careful, Ken. He might take you up on that. I'm sure taint searches are next on the list of indignities they will inflict on us. You could be hiding something there.

  2. Amy Alkon  •  Jan 3, 2012 @7:50 pm

    "TSA agents are telling the truth about being assaulted,"

    Since citizens are threatened with arrest for merely videotaping (permitted by TSA rules), don't you think they'd be arrested for actually assaulting those who sexually assault us?

    It's amazing to me that we are expected to stand there quietly and compliantly as our government gropes our breasts, vaginas, buttocks and testicles. Take the way-back machine for a second. It's 1999. If a government employee did this to you, would you 1. Deck him or her or, 2. stand there quietly and wait for it to be over?

    Now, I'm not violent; merely hostile, but I can't fathom how people just stand there quietly, saying nothing, as this happens for no other reason than to provide a source of income for low-wage-earning Americans and to train the rest of us to be compliant in the face of having our civil liberties yanked from us.

  3. VPJ  •  Jan 3, 2012 @8:24 pm

    I’m sure taint searches are next on the list of indignities they will inflict on us. You could be hiding something there.

    I can see the LA Times article now…

    "TSA Agents detained the man, whose name has not been released–but it's Ken–because the TSA supervisor stated that he detected a strong scent of raw taint.

    "'Unsnorted taint is a very dangerous material that could severely affect the safety of air travel by causing severe bruising to TSA Agents' feelings, leading them to possibly not be so thorough as they should otherwise be in searching the nether regions of the flying public,' said Chief Agent Mike 'Rentacop Rambo' Elk in a statement. 'It is vitally important that you leave your taint behind when travelling.'"

  4. Cathy  •  Jan 3, 2012 @8:26 pm

    THIS is what he wants to do with the union? Not sue for having to work so closely to the backscatter x-ray machines, the safety of which has never been determined (but we have plenty of reason to doubt)?

    Also, I want points for knowing the origin of this post's title. *ahem*

    *ahem* *ahem*

  5. Rliyen  •  Jan 3, 2012 @8:28 pm

    Fuck him. Fuck him right in the ass with a goddamn chainsaw. It's bad enough that these Fed Rent o' Cops are unionized, now they want the full Monty of arrest powers like the police.

    Somehow, I find it strangely comforting that in order to stop suspicious people that run the TSA drone has to rely on an old Robin Williams bit

    "Stop! Or I shall say 'stop!'a

  6. Rliyen  •  Jan 3, 2012 @8:30 pm

    "Stop! Or I shall say 'stop!' again."

    Schtupid Droid..

  7. Dustin  •  Jan 3, 2012 @9:03 pm

    "Since citizens are threatened with arrest for merely videotaping (permitted by TSA rules), don't you think they'd be arrested for actually assaulting those who sexually assault us?"

    Nope. Know your place, mere citizen. (I'm joking and I am aware of the horrible situation they put you in).

    Here's what's sad: if a political party decided to undo this… to eliminate the security theater and to actually prosecute abusive TSA folks and to have contempt for folks who actually seek a living violating the rights of their neighbors… that party would be crushed. If not instantly, then after the first incident.

    We are a culture dominated… utterly dominated, by fear. It's why everyone is in debt. It's why kids are fat. You have have to connect a dot here or there, but that's basically why we're in deep trouble as a society.

    So the things we do to alleviate our fears are so absurd at this point that we really should have been afraid of that instead.

  8. Not Sure  •  Jan 3, 2012 @9:03 pm

    "… the often brutal working conditions of 44,000 people charged with protecting our airports have largely gone unnoticed."

    If it's that brutal, nothing is stopping TSA agents from quitting and taking a job somewhere else with better working conditions, is it?

  9. EH  •  Jan 3, 2012 @9:26 pm

    With the recent removal of police-like uniforms from the TSA agents, perhaps this is a harbinger of a campaign issue: the law-enforcementyness of TSA.

  10. Will  •  Jan 3, 2012 @10:43 pm

    Well, someone has to hire all those people with BA's and a 100K of student debt. Or perhaps there standards are even too high.

  11. PiperTom  •  Jan 4, 2012 @7:50 am

    I see another reason to support Ron Paul. None of these other yahoos are going to restrain the TSA.

  12. John Burgess  •  Jan 4, 2012 @7:54 am

    I could stand their having arrest power if and only if they had absolutely no immunity (qualified or other) in the face of criminal and civil actions taken against them. They get no slack for good intentions, only grief for making mistakes.

    EH: The 'no uniform' thing is only a proposal. They're not losing their nifty GI Joe/Officer Friendly suits anytime soon.

  13. Mark Bennett  •  Jan 4, 2012 @7:57 am

    "If it's that brutal, nothing is stopping TSA agents from quitting and taking a job somewhere else with better working conditions, is it?"

    Nothing but their utter unemployability.

  14. Mandy  •  Jan 4, 2012 @8:23 am

    I know you're not supposed to "blame the victim" but reading the linked article about the woman detained because some dumbfuck on her plane reported "suspicious activity" pissed me off – at her. For not screaming, long and loud, for not cursing those idiots. She complied, even when hand-cuffed. She complied with a fucking strip-search. Now, I know people react differently. A situation which would probably have me ranting and raving until my head exploded (or I DID assault a TSA agent) made her too stunned to be angry. But I wanted to shake her and scream "get pissed off!"

    Dustin – We are a culture dominated by fear. But my fear isn't of the terrorist. It's of our government. I fear being groped at the airport, being strip-searched, being spied on, being "disappeared." And I am fucking terrified that my fellow citizens have no problem with this.

  15. Dustin  •  Jan 4, 2012 @8:58 am

    "For not screaming, long and loud, for not cursing those idiots. She complied, even when hand-cuffed. She complied with a fucking strip-search."

    Yeah, that is the scariest thing. People are actually complying when they should refuse to give up their basic rights.

    Texas was passing all those anti TSA measures, like the anti-groping law, and Dewhurst (a Senate candidate) shut it down. It's time for states to stand up for their citizens. Yes, that would provoke a legal crisis, but why shouldn't it?

  16. Game Kitten  •  Jan 4, 2012 @11:48 am

    "That prospect deeply concerns Mike Elk (Mr.), who emphasizes that the many guns TSA agents find every week"

    Guns can decide to fire themselves now? Who knew? Do they also gave Genuine People Personalities as well? If that true than the TSA should also try and stop those guns with GPP that are depressed, those clearly are the ones that are the most dangerous.

  17. Mark Bennett  •  Jan 4, 2012 @12:09 pm

    Game Kitten, I think Elk's point is that TSA employees can't be trusted with firearms: they may hurt themselves or others.

    It is a good point.

  18. JSF  •  Jan 4, 2012 @3:16 pm

    You forgot the Joe Foss incident, where the tsa thought his medal of honor was a ninja star.

    Then you have this propaganda but out by them:
    http://www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/john_finn.shtm

  19. louise  •  Jan 4, 2012 @3:29 pm

    If the airlines/feds really cared about our outrage, they would hire a supervisor/conciere for each gate whose job was to receive passengers who self referred (me travelling with my 95 mother with dementia,or my friend (travelling with a severely disabled child who the TSA insisted on separating from her and taking out of her vision). I would happily stand in a longer line designed for people who for whatever reason wanted courteous care from someone who had the power to make exceptions. I generally make every effort to be exceptionally pleasant to TSA agents, but I nearly ripped their head off when they left my 94 year old mom to stand alone on hard floor in a stream of bustling humanity just READY to be picked off by a wayward kid or carryon. Oh, and that's at the same time they are reporting my purse as abandoned because I am ignoring it in favor of trying desperately to get someone to take her hand.

  20. Ken  •  Jan 4, 2012 @3:32 pm

    Louise, what about your 42-year-old demented nephew?

  21. Scott Jacobs  •  Jan 4, 2012 @5:34 pm

    You'll just have to take care of yourself, Ken.

  22. louise  •  Jan 4, 2012 @7:08 pm

    I would never admit to knowing you in a TSA line, Ken….I've learned something from being a "great aunt."

  23. Scott Jacobs  •  Jan 4, 2012 @7:47 pm

    That admitting to knowing Ken is frequently the initial step on a long road that ending with accusing looks from a detective in a police interrogation room?

    :)

  24. GT  •  Jan 5, 2012 @2:40 pm

    Be gentle, Ken – Mike Elk is just bullshitting (in the formal, HG Frankfurt sense of the word). He doesn't give a flying fuck if what he says is true or not, but only cares whether not what he says advances his agenda.

    The horrible thing: it probably DOES. He might get shredded by folks like you and Radley Balko (and anyone else with an IQ over 80)… but guess what? Some political parasite will grab that fucking ball and run the length of the field with it (guarded by a group of sociopaths with M4s… no need for blockers).

    This ends badly, mon pôte. This won't end with the State's goons just putting their weapons away, like they did when East Germany collapsed. This ends with 'roided-out shitbags opening fire on children – like Lon Horiuchi did at both Waco and Ruby Ridge, and the Guard did at Kent State.

    American Exceptionalism, bitchez.

    Not to worry though: we win in the end

  25. mojo  •  Jan 6, 2012 @3:10 pm

    "They gave him a gun, Morrie!"
    – 1941

  26. I Got Bupkis, Fomenter of "small-l" libertarianism  •  Jan 6, 2012 @4:26 pm

    ====================================
    Better State Police…
    For a Better Police State!

    ====================================

  27. Bergman  •  Jan 6, 2012 @8:26 pm

    Re: John Burgess:

    Technically speaking, they already have arrest powers with no immunity whatsoever. Every citizen does, in most states. It's called citizen's arrest.

  28. Lago  •  Jan 8, 2012 @10:05 pm

    god I wish I could vent my outrage so eloquently..

  29. Pervak  •  Jan 30, 2012 @5:23 am

    Beyond the ability to throw around their power because they can arrest, what is likely also going on here is that they want that very lucrative 20-year federal law enforcement retirement and the special automatic overtime that goes along with carrying a federal badge. This is the driver between the proliferation of federal cops all over the government.

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