Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Courting Danger

I'm on Grand Jury til mid July. Can't really talk about it, other than the ADA's are very patient and meticulous people, and I'm glad I don't spend my life inside that building. Back in the 1960's, the city and county decided to put all their public safety departments--City Police, County Sherriff, jails, and courts, into one massive complex right at the edge of downtown.

It has not aged well.

One of the saddest features of public architecture is the changes that have been forced upon it by these terror-ridden times. And I'm not just talking about this building, but every public building everywhere in the country. Wide, expansive entryways meant to imply the openess of the governmental process are now boarded up and cordoned off. Visitors must be sent through a gauntlet of security guards. Bags are examined, belts are removed, crotches are wanded.

I remember walking up The National Mall in Washington DC, back in August of 2002. My oldest was a sophomore at an area university, and we made his return to school a bit of a mini-vacation. Walking up to the Capitol Building from the mall side is quite inspiring. But when we got to the building, the steps, the magnificent wide steps that led all up to the seat of power, were cordoned off. At the top of the steps were armed guards.

I wonder if those steps will ever be used again. Hell, maybe they're used now. I don't know. I haven't gone back. But the image of those guards, dressed in black, weapons glinting in the afternoon sun, watching us and assessing our threat level, will stay with me always.

But it's certain that we'll never get to walk in there again with the same freedoms we once had.

The change on the Public Safety Building (where I'm sitting on Grand Jury) is similar, if not as striking. The first time I had a reason to visit the courthouse was back in the 1980's. There were doors on three sides (the fourth side was annexed to the jail). In the early '90's three of the entranceways had been closed, and all everyone had to squeeze through one doorway, with a few guards checking through bags. Now, the courthouse has knocked a whole wall out, and replaced it with an unpleasant-looking group of chutes through which we all are sluiced. We get separated from our belongings at point A, and if we don't have anything dangerous on our persons (dangerous, in this instance means not only knives and guns, but metal spoons, glass bottles, and plastic crochet needles), we are reunited with them at point B.

On the whole, it's a pretty miserable example of the lives we all live.



Blogger mal said...

I wonder if we really gain any safety with all the hooo hah? I keep thinking of the example of Flight 93, is there a better example of citizens being their most effective security providers? What are we giving up with all of this? In view of the legislation that has been passed and is being discussed, I worry at times

8:27 AM  
Blogger dusty said...

Look, personally..I don't buy into this war on terror..I really dont. I have no clue how strip searching my fat ass makes america safer when I fly on a one way ticket..I am sure Osama would love to blow our country to kingdom come..I am just can only do so much..if its gonna happen..its gonna happen.look at Israel..they can't stop the madness, with bombers all the damn time. Maybe if we didn't piss off 90 percent of the worlds population we wouldn't be having these problems..

1:45 AM  
Blogger Notsocranky Yankee said...

I would think big open spaces with security people just keeping their eyes open for behavior, rather than searching pockets would be more appropriate. Sometimes you need to step back and things will be clearer.

It's really getting out of control...

7:20 AM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

I'm sure I've told the story before about when Lt. Trouble was just Freshman Trouble, and he wrote a paper discussing airport security. His position was that the security measures in place really did nothing to increase security; it was just that the added delay and scrutiny made the passengers feel like there was added security.

He submitted the paper the Friday before September 11, 2001. Worst 'A' Ever.

My son's take on the situation: All it does is catch the stupid ones.

He agrees with you Mallory, except he would include drug and bomb-sniffing dogs. He's a big proponent of using dogs.


5:49 PM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

On a roughly connected thought, I am attempting to become a magistrate. Kinda like a judge...

12:00 PM  
Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

Back in the 70's we used to enter the Superior Court building in Providence RI through the main entrance on the the first floor. We would then take the elevator up to the fourth floor and exiting there to avoid climbing a rather steep hill. It was College Hill leading up to the main entrance to Brown University. The elevators had operators in those days and they didn't seem to mind. I wonder if you can still do that.

God I sound old.

7:43 AM  

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