After last week's tragedy at LAX, can we all agree to stop beating up on the men and women of the TSA who are just trying to do their job, which is to protect you and me from being killed?
Can we stop behaving like spoiled children, thinking we have a God-given right to show up late for airplanes, forgetting to unpack the penknife in the bottom of the suitcase, and wearing shoes and boots that take forever to get on and off?
Sure, I know what it's like to get in the wrong line — and worse. I've had the ridiculous experience of being detained for a secondary check by TSA agents who know exactly who I am (big fans of Fox News in that case). But I was traveling on a series of one-way tickets, and that's how it works.
According to Amie Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the TSA "is seen as another administrative step. We used to be able to walk through metal detectors and get on an airplane; now we have to go through long search lines before we can leave."
True enough. We used to race through metal detectors and get right on the plane, but that was before four planes were hijacked, before we caught a would-be bomber with an explosive device in his shoe, before we became so painfully aware of the extent of terrorism and hate and our own vulnerability. Sure, there may be better ways to protect us; that is a legitimate debate. But the public discourse about the TSA has gone way beyond the confines of legitimate and productive debate.
Wrongly, the TSA has become the butt not simply of humor but of ridicule and vilification, portrayed as petty voyeurs who have no business looking us up and down. Such vilification isn't just unfair; it's dangerous.
Those who have studied hate crimes know this to be true. "When people or institutions are vilified on national television and in the public square, you often see people latch on to them as enemies to be destroyed," Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told reporters.
There is no good reason for Paul Ciancia to have so hated the TSA. But there were a lot of bad reasons, and those who have crossed the line in their attacks on the TSA should, quite simply, stop. I'm talking about folks like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has raged against the TSA for "groping toddlers and grandmothers," and Matt Hawes of the Campaign for Liberty, who raged that "the government literally has its hands in our pants."
No, no one told Ciancia that the answer was to start shooting, and no one is arguing that the loudmouths are responsible for the death of a husband and father who went to work every day to protect the rest of us. But enough is enough. Words have power. Vilify public servants, and the crazy people out there — and there are too many of them — will turn those words into weapons.
So enough. Paul and his pals aren't responsible for the death of TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez, but they should be on notice that their rhetoric is dangerous. They need to grow up and shut up before more people die.
Put your laptop in the bin. Take out your liquids. Put your hands up. No one is interested in groping grandmothers and toddlers. They're looking for weapons. They're trying to save lives. They deserve to be protected. They deserve to be thanked. And this week, sadly, one must be mourned.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)