“Which are your belongings?” I was asked. “I need to bring you over here. Please bring them with you. You were a random selection, that’s all.”
I followed the young, blue-shirted woman to a station behind the airport security line where she patted me down — not quite thoroughly, it turned out.
“Please put your hands out in front of you.” As I obliged, she ran a damp pad over each palm – up and back, up and back and then ran the pad through a machine that beeped again, producing a bright red bar on the monitor.
“Oh” she said. “I have to get someone to pat you down. I’m not allowed to do it.” She shouted something to someone and began walking, indicating that I should follow her.
“Is the privacy booth on this side or the other?” she called to a colleague; then followed her directions and led me there. We walked into a smoked glass booth just beyond the X-ray belt. As I entered, she pointed to a table in the corner. “Just put your bag over there. I have your phone and your Fitbit. You need to wait; she’ll be here in a minute.”
Not much beyond that time, in walked a large, gruff young woman with a soup-bowl hair cut. With no greeting or acknowledgment that I might have a name, she began:
“I am going to pat you down. Is there any part of your body that is injured – where it might be painful?
“No” I responded unsteadily. I was scared. Mortified really. Near tears, too, which sucked.
She began a detailed exposition – sounding more than a little like the author of a bad porn novel.
“I will move my hands up and down your legs, inside and out. Up, down.” She demonstrated, her arms extended, running up, then down as she spoke.
“I will feel your arms and down the sides of your body. Then your breasts and under.”
“And the buttocks.”
“And the groin.”
“Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said, struggling to speak.
“Face your *unintelligible*”
“Face your articles” – she meant the table where my stuff lay – over in the corner of the booth.
“Put your arms out at your sides.”
And she began — telling me each time she was about to move to a new area. Groin last. Of course. As impersonal as it could be, but still pretty dreadful.
Afterward, the young woman who’d first pulled me over turned to me and, as I was gathering my coat and backpack, pointed at the corner of the table “Don’t forget, I put your phone and your Fitbit over there.”
And it was done. They both just walked away. Like nothing had happened.
And I guess nothing had – really, but I was devastated and humiliated and angry as hell and not for me alone.
Through the whole thing, I kept thinking about all the arrest narratives I’d heard or read on-line, particularly since Ferguson, often recounted by Facebook friends — almost all African-American. Of TV producer Charles Belk, photographed sitting on the curb in Beverly Hills with his hands cuffed behind his back. Of Elora Nicole’s son. Of Eric Holder stopped in his own neighborhood when he was a US Attorney.
This only happened to me once. For so many people of color, especially male, this is just another part of what happens to them. More than a few times to many of them. Their experiences are often combined with real fear. That fear echoes daily in their hearts and in the hearts of those who love them.
I had felt so alone, and so violated. I had had to fight to keep tears of humiliation and shame at bay. Though it happened over a week ago, I put off writing about it because I was so freaked out. Even now, as I write, my heart is pounding and I again feel that lump rising in my throat. I’ll never go through security again without fear.
And it only happened to me once.