The success of the 9/11 terrorist attack continues to raise its ugly head in some unlikely places. A family from Columbus was detained for hours by Wright Patterson security forces for walking through the parking lot on Friday, April 4, 2014. The paranoia that has increased after 9/11 extends to citizens and law enforcement officers leading to potentially deadly consequences from totally innocent acts.
Columbus grandmother, Alice Hill went to the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum so that her grandson Eric could see the Wright brother’s airplane, which he had learned about in school. The grandson was interested in how many people were visiting the museum. The grandmother and grandson walked through the parking lot noting cars from as far away as Alaska. The family then went to see the exhibit.
They were stopped after leaving the exhibit by Wright Patterson security guards using a high-risk traffic stop procedure. The guards took the grandmother and daughter-in-law out of their van at gunpoint, put them on the ground, handcuffed them, held them for hours after accusing them of driving a stolen vehicle, and then the security people apologized.
The incident was started by an anonymous 911 call that someone was casing the parking lot in a suspicious manner. They thought the grandmother and grandson were looking for a car to steal. When the guards ran the van's license plate through the National Law Enforcement Terminal System, they got an erroneous response that the van was stolen. The four security guards in three security vehicles thought that this was a dangerous situation so they went into full alert as they approached the car with guns drawn.
The aftermath of the visit is that a five year old granddaughter thought the security guards were going to kill her grandmother, and the grandson now thinks that the police are bad guys. A Wright Patterson spokeswoman offered an apology and an opportunity for the children to meet and talk with the security guards. The grandson is now seeing a trauma specialist. The family declined the offer to talk with security guards.
Clint Davis of the Dayton Daily News reported the full incident on April 9, 2014 after it was broadcast on the Dayton Fox News station, WKRC. The news coverage is continuing as another example of response of police and security guards using inappropriate force to people suspected of breaking a law.
The responses of police and security forces have changed since the passage of the USA PATRIOT ACT. 9/11 changed the psyche of the US from naïve feelings of security to government sponsored paranoia. The mechanism was the PATRIOT ACT and the suspension of major portions of the Bill of Rights. Americans are afraid, and they are right to be afraid.
The Columbus Dispatch article by Allison Manning on Jan. 22, 2014 reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained a man in Columbus that was wearing Google glasses at a movie theater a few weeks ago. They thought the man might have been trying to record the movie. What does the recording of a movie have to do with national security? The glasses had the man's prescription and he wore them all the time. After being detained for two hours, the agents connected the glasses to a computer and found pictures of the man's family and dog.
The spirit of America was severely damaged in the wake of 9/11. The damage has continued and worsened as federal, state and local governments have increased their police actions against totally innocent people. The family broke no laws. The security guards overreacted because their policies promote a “detain first, ask questions later” approach.
We need to campaign against the PATRIOT ACT, and we need to be vigilant as to how police are applying force and coercion in the execution of their duties. If the security forces had asked, “What were you doing in the parking lot?” they might have gotten the response, “Parking?” Their question of “What were you looking for?” would have gotten a response of “License plates from other states.” There would have been no news story; no traumatized family; and no meaningless apology for overreacting to a totally innocent walk in the parking lot.
It is difficult to restore trust once it is lost. We can’t take back the 9/11 attacks, but we can restore confidence that the various levels of government will stop terrorizing people in the name of protecting them from terrorists. We need to have government at all levels rethink how they are going to again “protect and serve” without adding to terrorist fears.
We all need to work to rebuild our faith that the US operates under the slogan "in God we trust". Government needs to reassure us that the Bill of Rights will be applied fairly to all, and that we are secure in our speech, religious freedoms, and due process that were once the law of the land.