A father was harassed and later lectured by a Homeland Security agent for taking pictures of his own daughters in another example of how the “see something, say something” mentality is running rampant in America.
In a Washington Post piece entitled I was taking pictures of my daughters. A stranger thought I was exploiting them, web designer Jeff Gates explains how he has taken photographs of his two adopted Chinese daughters hugging every year for the past 14 years on a ferry boat before the family leaves for its annual summer vacation to the Jersey Shore.
However, on this occasion, Gates’ experience was ruined by a federal busybody who thought that sticking his nose into a family’s private business was part of his job as a Homeland Security employee.
Gates takes up the story;
Totally engaged with the scene in front of me, I jumped when a man came up beside me and said to my daughters: “I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you were okay.”
At first none of us understood what he was talking about. His polite tone and tourist attire of shorts, polo shirt and baseball cap threw us off. It took me a moment to figure out what he meant, but then it hit me: He thought I might be exploiting the girls, taking questionable photos for one of those “Exotic Beauties Want to Meet You!” Web sites or something just as unseemly. When I explained to my daughters what he was talking about, they were understandably confused. I told the man I was their father. He quickly apologized and turned away. But that perfect moment was ruined, and our annual photo shoot was over.
Angered at the racist implication that something untoward was going on simply because his daughters were Asian and he was a white middle-aged man, Gates decided to find and confront the individual, telling him, “Excuse me, sir, but you just embarrassed me in front of my children and strangers. And what you said was racist.”
“I work for the Department of Homeland Security. And let me give you some advice: You were standing there taking photos of them hugging for 15 minutes,” replied the man, somehow living under the delusion that his employee status within the most loathed and overreaching federal agency in America gave him the right to act like a secret agent.
Although the DHS detective wannabe apologized again, he continued to question Gates for taking pictures of his own children.
Gates reflects on the incident as a disturbing reminder of how the mantra of “see something, say something” has muddied the waters of what constitutes suspicious activity in comparison to harmless behavior.
“When the government is telling Americans that we should be on guard against everyone, everywhere, at all times (“If you see something, say something”), it might start to seem plausible—likely, even—that a sex trafficker would take photos of his sex slaves, in public, for 15 minutes. In reality, of course, that’s absurd,” writes Lenore Skenazy.
Skenazy also points to a recent story where a mom was arrested for letting her kids play in the park as an example of what happens when authorities leap to “worst-first thinking.”
As we have previously documented, the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in the wake of 9/11 to fight terrorism, now sees itself as something of an occupying army in American society, from confiscating Land Rovers which may or may not violate EPA emission regulations, to conducting armed patrols of small towns as part of “community outreach” programs based around maintaining a visible presence in order to “let people know they’re in the area.”