By Gregory Flannery

Keeping Us Safe from Terrorist Toothpaste

I was packing a six-ounce tube of Close Up toothpaste when I tried to board a flight at Dayton International Airport July 30. But the vigilant staff of the U.S. Department of Fatherland Security was on to me. They knew exactly what I was up to, and they disarmed me. Lest we forget, we live under an orange terrorism alert; and no liquids, aerosols or gels in quantities greater than three ounces may be transported in carry-on luggage on commercial airlines. It is well established that terrorists need at least four ounces of toothpaste to take down a jetliner.

Five people from Streetvibes attended the annual conference of the North American Street Newspaper Association in Denver, and our experiences with airline security point to the inanity of the rules that now govern air travel:

  • One of my colleagues forgot that she had a canister of pepper spray in her carry-on bag. The X-ray machine at the Dayton Airport failed to detect it. All her dentifrices, however, were within the rules, and we landed safely.
  • Another colleague had illegal contact-lens solution in her carry-on bag. Bad enough that it was a four-ounce container. More shocking still was the fact that she had placed the liquid in a gallon-size plastic bag, even though the rules clearly specify quart-size bags. Fatherland Security, however, waved her right onto the plane.
  • In May, I boarded a plane in Cincinnati, stopped in the Detroit International Airport, then in Amsterdam on my way to Bergen, Norway. The flight home took me the same route. At each checkpoint, I took from my pants pocket a Zippo lighter given to me by my son several years ago. No problem. In Dayton, however, Fatherland Security decided that the very same lighter was as dangerous as my toothpaste and confiscated it. When I asked if I could retrieve the keepsake upon my return from Denver, I was informed that I had lost it forever. That little business of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law” – seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Not to worry, though. Another colleague, a savvier traveler than I, told me how to fool the goons. Having bought a disposable lighter in Denver, I stuck it inside a shoe in my carry-on bag. The X-ray machine in Denver didn’t catch it. Using this method, I could have bought a huge tube of toothpaste and smuggled it home, but I made my point by not brushing my teeth for several days. I figured the Fatherland Security staff had earned the bad breath to which I exposed them before boarding the flight home.

The Streets – and the Law – Are Unforgiving

In recent weeks two Streetvibes vendors encountered the cruel reality of homelessness in Cincinnati. One man found himself in need of a toilet late one night. With no public facilities available, he did what any human being would do: he urinated in an alley. Cincinnati Police caught him, cited him and he had to pay a $104 fine. Streetvibes vendors make 75 cents for each copy of Streetvibes that they sell. This infraction meant he had to sell 138 copies of the paper just to relieve himself.

Kenneth Stonitsch had a more serious run-in with the law. He was sleeping on the third floor of an abandoned building on Wade Street when the police showed up July 24.

“They were trying to get my attention but I couldn’t hear them,” Stonitsch says. “I’m almost deaf, and I was on the third floor. The next thing I knew, I woke up and a dog was in the room. There were four cops in there. They said something, and the dog bit me several times on the right leg. I was in pain pretty bad. All they had to do was tell me to get up and leave. They didn’t have to put the dog on me. It was pretty painful – humiliating, too.”

Next thing he knew, Stonitsch was facing a felony charge of burglary and the prospect of a prison sentence.

“You’re going to put a felony on me for being homeless?” he says. “Now I’m looking at one to five years in the penitentiary.”

A Hamilton County grand jury fortunately saw the issue in a different light, passing over the burglary charge and indicting him instead on the misdemeanor charge of trespassing. The case is still pending.