There’s a saying my father often used, “You can’t win for losing.” As a kid, I always struggled to wrap my head around it –trying to notch the words together in a way that made sense. Basically, it’s a more dramatic version of another homespun truism: “Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.”
Such is life for every TSA agent in the country. Make us take off our shoes? We’re pissed. Make us un-sheath our laptops? We’re pissed. Let a pair of bomb shoes or a laptop filled with snakes slip through your clutches (carried, potentially by a terrorist, but more commonly by an undercover TSA agent)? We’re doubly pissed. Or dead.
The stakes of working for the TSA are insanely high. The starting salary is $31K. Pretty safe to say that there’s no job in the country with a worse salary/”cost of f*cking up” ratio. They greet us when we’re cranky, tired, and rushed; doing jobs that society has almost fetishized the mockery of. (Thank god Jordan Peele tossed the TSA a bone with Lil Rel Howery’s character, Rod, in Get Out).
Everyone wants the TSA to ease up, but know this: if they make a mistake, there will be no mercy. No excuses will work. We will have blood. And that mistake can be something getting past them or trying too hard to make sure something doesn’t. Take this mega-viral video showing a TSA pat down of a 13-year-old boy:
It was filmed by Jennifer Williamson of Plano, TX. The boy is her son, being patted down by a TSA officer after an alarm set off by a laptop. This comes on the heels of the TSA’s announcement of more stringent/ invasive pat downs because they are under pressure to protect us better, by an administration that has used specific rhetoric to make travel seem dangerous.
“We have been through hell this morning,” Williamson wrote on Facebook. “I am livid. Please, share… make this viral like the other children’s videos with TSA… I wish I had taped the entire interchange because it was horrifying. We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side.”
The post has been shared 95K times. The video has been viewed 5.8 million times. Williamson’s TSA hate resonated deeply. Meanwhile, the TSA is standing its ground.
“In total, the pat-down took approximately two minutes,” they wrote in a statement to media, “and was observed by the mother and two police officers who were called to mitigate the concerns of the mother. The passengers were at the checkpoint for approximately 45 minutes, which included the time it took to discuss screening procedures with the mother and to screen three carry-on items that required further inspection.”
So is that one hour delay all on the TSA? Or is there a more nuanced truth that Twitter and Facebook don’t seem capable of handling? Instead of a discussion or, y’know, compassion for an agency trying to adapt to changing travel conditions, people are rampantly speculating about the officer who did the pat down (who has been named by multiple outlets).
Here’s a Twitter account with 7K followers overtly implying that the officer is a pedophile.
And two of literally thousands of Facebook comments drawing the same conclusion.
Counterpoint: The TSA confiscated 81 firearms LAST WEEK. 74 were loaded. 26 had a round in the chamber. So… maybe they’re just trying to do their jobs well and not get fired? Perhaps we shouldn’t speculate on who is and isn’t a psychopathic monster based on a Facebook video?
The boy’s mother states that he has a sensitivity disorder which makes this ordeal particularly dramatic, but she doesn’t mention in her Facebook status whether the family took advantage of “TSA Cares” a program which aims to ease the screening impact for people with disabilities. Requests for a comment on this point were not immediately returned.
“These power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause, need to be reined in,” Williamson wrote.
It’s a sentiment people seem to agree with. But it also reveals a tremendous amount of privilege. Do you want TSA to be reined in on all kids? Even if the adult accompanying them makes you wary because of your own pre-existing biases? Or should they treat everyone who flies equally?
It’s a worthy conversation, the sort that can’t just be tweeted about. Meanwhile, the TSA, whose only job is to keep us safe while we snap at them, still can’t win for losing.