THE MAGAZINE

Too Important for Security

By Sherry L. Harowitz

Perhaps you heard about the incident involving Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). She hit a Capitol policeman with her cell phone because he dared to question why she was bypassing security on her way into a House office building. The officer says that he did not recognize her and that she was not wearing the pin that identifies her as a member of Congress. She admitted to not wearing the pin, which gives the wearer the right to bypass security.

Excuse me?

Yes, you heard right. A little pin gives anyone who has it carte blanche to enter one of the critical branches of government without even having to pass through a metal detector.

McKinney says this is a case of racism. In the absence of the pin, she says, the officer looked at her—she is black—and decided that she didn’t look like a congressperson.

The real problem is that the officer was expected to treat a VIP differently. It is yet another case of elitism—the idea that some people, like corporate CEOs and congresspersons, are far too important to have to go through security checkpoints. This policy sends the wrong message to the general public and the work force in any office or government building. It also creates a vulnerability that any terrorist, criminal, or run-of-the-mill lunatic can exploit.

Just such a policy cost New York City Councilman James Davis his life in 2003. As CNN reported at the time, when the councilman entered City Hall with the man who was to become his killer, “The two did not pass through a metal detector, which is not unusual for elected officials,” allowing the gunman to bring the weapon past the security checkpoint unnoticed.

It’s a miracle that there were not other fatalities as well, because the council was about to convene, and there were many spectators, including children, in the hall when the gunman fired off his rounds. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg immediately changed the policy. Now elected officials and their guests must pass through metal detectors at that facility.

Unfortunately, the lesson has not been learned by the federal government.

In the aftermath of the McKinney incident, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) introduced a resolution in support of the officer, saying that he should be commended for doing his job. Well, that is certainly true, but it is also true that the policy exempting elected officials from the metal detector scrutiny undermines the job security is trying to do.

If a facility merits metal detectors, everyone from the most important to the least important person should pass through the checkpoint. That sends the clear message that no one is above security, just as no one is above the law.

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