The security checkpoints marred the day for many pilgrims who spent two, three, hours or more waiting in a line, and it totally ruined the experience for some who traveled great distances to see Francis, only to end up plopped in front of a Jumbotron 20 blocks away. And I don't understand what it accomplished. Was the pope himself a tad safer? Maybe -- although pilgrims at other open-air papal visits in places like Cuba or Ecuador didn't face such excessive security. Was the crowd -- a "soft target," in the grim parlance of "the war on terror" -- made safer by the checkpoints? Not really, since an evildoer could have struck them on either side of the magnetometers, right?
In the end, the show of force looked more like a show of fear -- a case where American exceptionalism was merely our exceptional paranoid obsession with security. The troop buildup was a giant money suck, taking dollars away from the common good, and it was absolutely a restriction on one of the freedoms that Americans have come to cherish the most -- freedom of movement. I can't help but think the whole experience made us look like a weak nation to vistors from other lands.
Of course, while 9/11 will always be cited as the justification for this over-the-top protection of "the homeland," the only possible real justification for checkpoints is not so much al-Qaeda as the fact that America is a nation awash in guns, the bulk of them legal. Personally, I prefer the right to move freely from place to place over the right to pack heat. Because this weekend made it clear that the United States is a place that can't easily handle both at the same time.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Secuity theatre: Philadelphia edition
Will Bunch reflects on the massive security presence disrupting Philadelphia during the pope's visit: