Remember John Tyner? He was the young man whose smartphone captured an "enhanced" pat-down at the San Diego Airport — a search immortalized when he warned, "Don't touch my junk." This simple quote captured how many of us felt about the government getting too much into our business. After this episode, I never imagined publicly using the Department of Homeland Security as an example of government common sense.
Unfortunately, recent actions by the Talbot Public County Schools — the suspension of two lacrosse players (and arrest of one of them) after they were found with a small knife and a lighter used to repair equipment — have made this acknowledgment possible.
My wife's dad passed away many years ago. Her "inheritance" was a small (2-inch) Swiss army knife with scissors and a small blade. To this day, she carries it with her everywhere. A few years ago, she was travelling to Florida. Her purse went through the X-ray, and she remembered the knife. A Transportation Security Administration officer found the item and told her, "we have to confiscate this." My wife broke down and told the agent what the knife was and what it meant to her. He wrote down our address and said he would send it to her.
She left security thinking it was the last she'd seen of her memento. But the employee made good on his promise. It's hard to imagine his kindness, let alone not having her arrested. After all, she had attempted to smuggle a "deadly weapon" through airport security.
The other day, inside security at Chicago's Midway Airport, the person in front of me at one of the shops, a young sailor, asked the clerk if they had lighters. I was surprised when she said yes and gave him one. He thanked her and paid for his "explosive device." I had no idea such a dangerous item could be bought at an airport.
Apparently, the folks at Homeland Security have more sense than the junk-man gave them credit for. They are able to differentiate between a real weapon (a .357 magnum) and something that could be used as a weapon (a baseball bat). They are also capable of recognizing items that are simply not that risky (a lighter). TSA is flexible enough to react depending on the situation. If you try to smuggle a loaded gun through security, you will be arrested. If you have a golf club or lacrosse stick, they send you back to check your bag. This seems quite reasonable.
Our school administrators make decisions and choices. We expect them to be able to sort. Their main job is to protect the students in our schools. We don't pay them to "go after" kids.
We hope our civic leaders use equal measures of assurance and humility, with overall personal integrity, when they make decisions. We trust that when they are tested, they will demonstrate calmness and strength of character to do what is right. Rules are rules, yet situations should be dealt with case by case. A superintendent needs to be able to use judgment and to make the right call — even when it's a tough call. When they fail us, they should be held accountable.
At Easton High School's J. Sam Meek Memorial Stadium, there is a sign on the fence: "Warrior Pride." Pride can be good, but this season Talbot County school pride was a bad thing. It was the foolish kind of pride. This is the sort that rejects the advice of others. It is the pride that heightens overconfidence, disregards judgment and leads to poor choices. It prevents recognizing errors and learning from mistakes. It results in hiding behind zero tolerance and enforcing gag orders. It prevents one from admitting to being wrong and ignores scenarios where apologies are in order.
Unfortunately, Easton's teachers and coaches are afraid to speak their minds about the lacrosse team controversy. They worry they will lose their jobs. Parents fear that if they speak out, their kids will be harassed. This is wrong. Our schools have no-bully policies. This policy should also apply to the person in charge of our schools and her henchmen.
In April 2006 three Duke University athletes were wrongly accused of rape. Before the facts were known, the police, the district attorney, the media, many faculty members and the school's president had already decided the young men were guilty. The court of public opinion was not kind. The coach was fired. The lacrosse team's season was cancelled. Eighteen months later, Duke President Richard Brodhead made a written apology to the players and the former coach for his mistakes. He was forced to by the courts. These young men were innocent. Did we learn anything?
When leaders make snap decisions or rulings before they gather the facts, the end result is usually a bad decision. Poorly written rules result in inappropriate consequences. People who refuse to admit they could ever be wrong ultimately lose credibility and respect. It doesn't have to be this way.
Paul Thomson is a retired Air Force officer who lives in Easton. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.