The Viral Shame of the TSA, Keeping You Safe from Wheelchair-Bound Kids

The Atlantic Wire

In the latest undeniably sad and borderline pathetic episode of the Transportation Security Administration's <strike>miscarriage of common sense</strike> war on terror, we bring you to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in Missouri, where the American government's friskiest agency was forced to apologize to disabled 3-year-old Lucy Forck and her parents after detaining the toddler and threatening her with a pat-down on their way to a family vacation this month. The apology — like so much of the TSA's second guessing in the last decade, at least when it comes to wheelchair-bound child passengers — arrived only after a particularly personal and inappropriate airport screening went viral. In this case, Lucy's mom, Annie, shot this security-line cellphone video on February 8 in St. Louis: 

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Yes, the TSA figured out a way to get a little girl to say that she doesn't want to go to Disney World. Several copies of the video are now on the Internet, and the original has over 130,000 views — and the TSA saw it coming. Multiple times in the video, the agent tells Lucy's mom that she can't record her own child getting the full terror-suspect treatment... most likely because she didn't want to get caught. (It's not illegal to record cellphone video at an airport.) So while menacing little Lucy was probably spared a full pat-down because her mom still recorded the whole thing, the TSA is prepared for this sort of viral accounting. Not that it's stopping them.

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Now the TSA has apologized, issuing a statement late Wednesday night claiming that the agency, a division of the Homeland Security department, will look into... something:

TSA regrets inaccurate guidance was provided to this family during screening and offers its apology...We are committed to maintaining the security of the traveling public and strive to treat all passengers with dignity and respect. While no pat-down was performed, we will address specific concerns with our workforce.

Whether that "specific" thing is kids in wheelchairs remains unclear. And sure, wheelchairs can be (warning: Breaking Bad spoiler) explosive. But this isn't the first time a kid in a wheelchair has been given a (perhaps traumatizing) pat-down by the TSA. Soak that in. The TSA had to issue a similar response this past December at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport after they detained Shelbi Waser, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from a bone density disorder, claiming that she had explosive residue on her hands:

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According to CBS's Dallas affiliate, the TSA found the residue, but they never even thought to test Shelbi's wheelchair:

“Through all of this, no common sense ever kicked in,” said Daniels. “No one ever tested her wheelchair.”

Daniels acknowledged that wheelchairs are “like the bottoms of shoes”, which are nasty and exposed to any and everything on the ground.

And — yes, this happened even before that — the TSA detained and swabbed 3-year-old Rocco Dubiel, who had broken his leg, back in 2010. His father posted his ordeal on YouTube last March:

A frightening trend, as you can see from Rocco's video above, is that parents can't help when the TSA goes after their disabled children. When a kid is detained, they're detained alone for the entire screening — and that can be extremely stressful when you're a special-needs child. Stressful enough that parents would want to take to the Internet and the media to spread their cause, and stressful enough for a 4-year-old to, you know, want to give her grandma a hug.

So, yes, Lucy joins Rocco and Shelbi on the list of kids in wheelchairs who the TSA has successfully combatted in America's ongoing efforts to strengthen airport security at all costs. And they now belong to a longer list of the victims of strange pat-downs, detainments, and invasive screenings, including, but not limited to security threats like Michelle Dunaj, who is dying of leukemia; Henry Kissinger; an 18-month-old named Riyanna; 7-year-old Dina Frank, who has cerebral palsy; and Jeffrey Goldberg's mother-in-law, who apparently has an "anomaly in her crotch."

As they noted in Lucy's apology, the TSA is looking into the most recent matter in some way or another. Of course, the TSA has been looking into its screening of children for a year and a half. In September of 2011, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, "There'd be additional training for a different pat-down procedure for them and also, again, allowing them to leave their shoes on."  

So there's that.

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