Sherwood's Notebook: Fear 1, Freedom 0

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images

    Chalk up another loss for the American public.

    Tens of millions of baseball fans now — or soon — will have to go through enhanced “security” screening to enter ballparks for Major League Baseball games.

    Michael Teevan, senior public relations director for Major League Baseball, confirmed to us that “by 2015 Opening Day, all Major League Clubs will be officially required to implement a program for screening all fans prior to entry to each Major League ballpark.”

    Right now, there is only observation and quick bag checks. But metal detectors and wands are likely on the way.

    Teevan said the league has been coordinating with the federal Department of Homeland Security and a private security firm called CEIA. It doesn’t come as a surprise to the Notebook that CEIA is “a leading manufacturer of walk-through metal detectors.”

    Now where will this latest intrusion on our freedom of movement at mass events lead?
    Metal detectors for all football games? Soccer? Basketball? Bowling? PGA golf tournaments? How about our Metro system, the trains and the buses? And, given the recent shooting at The Mall in Columbia, every shopping center?

    How about festivals on Pennsylvania Avenue, once known as America’s Main Street and now an open-air display of fear-based cameras, bollards and other barriers?

    The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower once warned about is almost nothing compared to the relentless “securicrat” bureaucracy and its money-making machine that feeds on fear.

    These pre-emptive attacks on freedom in the name of security aren’t even that effective.

    High-ranking law enforcement officials will admit privately that a lot of it is “security theater,” an effort to make people feel safe. These officials know that it’s almost impossible to stop random acts of violence. A lot of the training acknowledges this, with an emphasis not on preventing but on responding to attacks by either individuals or groups.

    Here’s a simple example with Nationals Park

    Assume metal detectors are installed near the Nats’ center field, where thousands pour through the gates from the Metro stop on Half Street SE.

    There’s already a backup getting fans through now. The metal detectors will slow things down even more. Just note the delays when the president attends.

    What’s to stop even a dull-witted terrorist or mentally ill lone shooter from stopping at the crowded entry and setting off a suicide bomb or opening fire right there? It would be horrific. What good are the gates and wands just steps away?

    Replicate this scenario for any place where large crowds gather — including the Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall, the Library of Congress National Book Festival, and any of innumerable crowded events at our gleaming Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

    Maybe Union Station and Amtrak around the nation will impose security checks and more barriers. But what would stop terrorists from targeting the tens of thousands of miles of open tracks crisscrossing America (or the huge new tunnel on Virginia Avenue SE being planned by CSX but hotly disputed by many residents)?

    The National Football League limits bag sizes (and requires them to be clear plastic).
    Where does it stop, this bureaucratic urge to block and wand every citizen everywhere?

    Again, just as a practical matter, there’s limited protection that can actually be provided.
    The only exception is the work of the U.S. Secret Service. It has extraordinary powers used in protecting the president. The Secret Service policy is simple — shut down a whole area and sanitize it for any potential disruption. But millions of Americans can’t live that way day in and day out.

    Your Notebook likes baseball. We like the atmosphere of live games. We live near the ballpark. We arrive early just for the National Anthem (“Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”).

    Baseball has been a big cultural and sports addition to our city. More modern technology may allow subtle observation of and detection in big crowds. Surely our nation won’t become one giant airport where TSA lines back up everywhere, agents bark orders and everyone every day loses bits of freedom.

    The imposition of securicrat barriers, unfortunately, is becoming America’s pastime. It’s a game that free Americans should be reluctant to play.

    ■ The Nats response. Our hometown team is exploring ways to meet the Major League Baseball directive on new security measures. It looks like metal detectors won’t be added this season. That means there’s still time for cooler heads to prevail, and it means it’s more likely we’ll be attending the games this season.

    ■ A final word. The Notebook, along with many, many others, sadly marks the death last week of Virginia Williams, 87, the mother of former Mayor Anthony Williams. She had been visiting family for the holidays in Los Angeles.

    As boisterous as Mayor Williams is shy — and big-hearted and warm to everyone — Mrs. Williams embraced local Washington, and it embraced her. She lent her time, voice and energies to seniors, children and community groups across our city. A memorial service is being planned.


    Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.