For more than two decades, I’ve been increasingly troubled by the limiting of access to public places under the justification of security.
When I began reporting, I could go just about anywhere I wanted. Public buildings and schools were open. As an education reporter, I was free to roam the halls looking for interesting stories. I found many that way, and developed relationships with some wonderful teachers who became valuable sources. Of course, with the surge in school violence, I can understand why schools aren’t as open.
Public buildings are another issue. When I went to work for the Muskogee Phoenix in 1980, people visiting the federal courthouse or federal office building could enter at will and go where they pleased. If I was covering a case, during recesses I enjoyed wandering the halls and admiring the building’s beautiful culture and excellent state of preservation. That building later was the first in Muskogee to require that people present IDs and go through a metal detector.
Now people are forced to go through metal detectors or be patted down to transact almost any business in public buildings. (Since I have two knee replacements, I get treated to a patdown).
I visited Washington, D.C., as a college student and remember we got to go all over the Capitol. I recall riding the subway with a senator as he went from his office to the chamber to vote. We toured the White House and I’m sure our group had reservations, but I don’t recall any unusual security measures.
Obviously that has changed. Only a few days ago, my friends Roger and Shawna Cain of Adair County, Oklahoma, found that out in a terrifying way.
The Cains are Cherokee National Treasures. Both have studied their culture extensively and work hard to preserve it. They are experts in native plant identification, use and preservation, gleaning much of this knowledge from tribal elders. Roger is an advocate for the environmental benefits of river cane, while Shawna uses river cane and other natural sources to weave her award-winning baskets. Roger makes Cherokee booger masks which have grown in popularity.
Naturally, the Cains were excited when asked to exhibit their work, along with that of other respected Cherokee artists, at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington. They set out in their Toyota, loaded with works of art and river cane. Upon arrival a museum representative told them if they came over they could unload their work. She requested a vehicle description and license tag number, which they gave her. She told them how to get to the unloading area.
They turned up the drive as directed. As they approached the building, unseen bollards (hard pillars designed to repel terrorist attacks) rose from the ground, impaling their car and striking them with the force of a crash. The car was totaled. Shawna’s elbow was severely injured. Roger hasn’t felt right since the accident.
Roger and Shawna are no terrorists, but they were terrorized. Museum officials disavowed any responsibility for the incident or the damage, and pooh-poohed their pleas for restitution. The Cherokee Nation stepped in and allowed them the resources to remain in Washington until the fate of their vehicle was determined and they could head home.
Needless to say, their impression of the NMAI fell drastically because of this incident and the lack of concern and resolution by officials.
The Cains are finally at home in the Cherokee Nation, still working to rectify this disaster and restore their rights. I wish them every success.
Terrorism has become the “worldwide communist conspiracy” of the 21st century. As a high school student I was told we were lucky we lived in a free country, where we could go anywhere we want. We weren’t like those unfortunate inhabitants of godless communist countries, who had to carry an ID at all times and be prepared to explain their comings and goings upon official request. We were free.
Today, I don’t feel quite as free.