Last Sunday at 4:45am I was at San Francisco International airport’s (SFO) security screening when I witnessed a tragedy. I thought I was simply passing through to board a plane to Boston; I was wrong. I along with many other ticketed passengers watched a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer physically shove an elderly man as he attempted to move through the security check point. Now to be fair, allow me to elaborate.
The facts: (1) an elderly man with a single crutch was in the security line (2) a TSA officer took the man’s crutch to put it on the baggage x-ray conveyer belt (3) the same TSA officer instructed the man to proceed through the passenger screening device (4) the elderly man did not appear to fully understand where he was to go and gingerly moved towards the wrong screening device (in so doing, he attempted to move a wooden board that was blocking his path) (5) the TSA officer rushed over and aggressively shoved him to the correct screening lane.
Commentary: On Sunday morning I witnessed an abuse of power at SFO. I watched as a TSA officer named “Matthew” (apologies to all ethical TSA officers named Matthew) shoved a disabled elderly man who was clearly incapable of fighting back. It was obvious from the initial actions of this elderly traveler that he either did not fully understand English or was simply of an advanced age which required a little extra clarification regarding security screening protocol. The man was of small to average stature and in his current physical condition I, as a 5’4” woman, could have taken him in a confrontation. Be that as it may, had I been the one shoved by TSA officer Matthew, I would have shoved right back. The elderly man did not…
I should share that I am an ex-police officer so I understand the stress security officers can be under. I also understand TSA officers are under-paid for the responsibility placed upon them for traveler’s safety. Additionally, as a corporate trainer and coach, I look at this situation as a possible training issue for Matthew. This brings me to answer the question you may be asking, “Did you do anything about what you witnessed?” YES! I first confronted Matthew to tell him I saw what he did and just because he was having a bad morning or perhaps because someone had recently angered him, did not give him the right to abuse an elderly man. To my surprise, he simply said, “I was keeping him from being arrested.”
Hmmm, needless to say, I was not impressed with Matthew’s response. Long ago I learned never accept a no from someone who is not empowered to say yes. With that in mind, I proceeded through the security screening area and asked another TSA officer where I could find the supervisor. I was directed to a blond female officer standing behind a podium off to the side of the screening area. I made contact with her, described what occurred, and asked that she review the video tape to see Matthew’s behavior for herself. I would like to say that she expressed concern about the human rights violation but I would be lying. My description took approximately one minute during which time, she never spoke. Upon completion of my discourse she simply said “ok”. I left understanding where Matthew’s behavior came from. Poor leadership begets poor team execution.
Yes, Sunday morning left me with a pain I still carry but I’m not angry anymore. While I don’t believe I made much of a difference altering TSA’s behaviors or comforting the abused man (I never saw him on the other side of the screening area) I do believe whether we are leaders or team members working together we can overcome the Matthew’s of this world. I refuse to be a Matthew this week; how about you?