Airports: Your Dose of State Violence Just around the Corner
EspañolThis is what a border looks like:
Of course, if I didn’t mention that it’s the frontier between two countries (and if there were no limits showed by Google) it would go unnoticed. The earth doesn’t stop, doesn’t break, or change its color. Crops that grow on one side generally grow smoothly on the other. It’s the artificial boundary itself that is often host to absurdity.
In the face of the peaceful atmosphere that reigns in the state of nature, governments — the example of the unnatural par excellence — allocate countless resources to counter that balance, hence customs, “security checks,” tariff measures, passports, and visas. All these tools are backed by violence, their ultimate sanction the police baton and the soldier’s rifle.
My journey began well enough. I didn’t have to complete the government’s customs declaration that what I’m carrying is mine, and that a slice of whatever I bring from outside the country will be theirs.
The protectionism promoted by the Argentinean government has isolated us enough from the world that the technology that most Argentineans possess is obsolete and, therefore, when we return from our trips, the government will exempt us from having to bribe our way back in. Unlike the hundreds of people that crowded in the line to enter Argentina, my kick of humiliation would happen a while later.
After passing through the metal detector during the the first security check, my mistake of carrying a packet of antacids in my pocket set off the buzzer. An officer with the the Airport Security Police, complete with boots and pistol, abruptly asked me to separate my arms and legs. Without any further explanation, he frisked my entire body just as the police do with homeless prostitutes working on the street.
In the United States, the situation was different. As I took my internal connection to the capital, the security controls became more entertaining. Instead of a cop — although that option is also available — a machine will scan your body. Some choice.
Nearby were hundreds of people waiting for a US government official to decide that they could visit the country. But not everyone has the same fate.
Officer A pointed to me: “Come with me, sir,” he said. Respect and courtesy ended there. After reading my passport to confirm that I was Argentinean, Officer A asked me why was I visiting the United States.
— When was the last time you came to America?
— Who did you come with?
— My father.
— Why didn’t your father come this time?
Officer A’s questions were forceful, as if to make his interrogation seem more important. Perhaps behaving like a bully is the only comfort for someone scarcely qualified to hold a badge and gun, and probably not even the latter.
He continued his interrogation. He asked if I had commercial goods, drugs, cigarettes, food. He asked me to open my backpack, rifled through it, wrinkled my clothes. Luckily, that was the worst of it: although more serious incidents are never far from one’s mind when waiting in line.
I write this post from the room of a hostel in Washington, DC. An Indian, two Germans, two Koreans, a Colombian, two Hondurans, an Australian, a Canadian, and myself are sleeping under the same roof. We interact, share our goods, talk, and nobody does so on behalf of a country: ultimately, we’re just people, even though states continue to insist otherwise.
Had to wait in line to renew a Passport allowing me to visit members of my own species across artificially conceived borders.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 5, 2015
Translated by Rebeca Morla. Edited by Laurie Blair.