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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Armed Renta-Goon
Protects Museum
By Richard Carreño
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
I visited the National Museum of American Jewish History, on Philadelphia's historic Independence Mall, earlier this week. As on previous occasions, I was impressed. This museum is, yes, an 'identity museum.' In other words, as other like institutions, it sets to identify, define, and explore its fixed ethnic mandate. There are other similar museums, those for American Indians, African Americans, and the like. When these museums simply celebrate and trumpet their themes, the museums fail as institutions of learning. Read, hagiographic propaganda. This not the case with Jewish museum. While the museum is hardly an institution of 'higher' learning (many exhibits often fall short of true depth), the overall achievement of the museum is first-rate. The museum, at this site and in this new building, is only a year old. During my visit this week, I wandered for more than four hours. I would have stayed longer. But I had another afternoon appointment. On the way out, I filled out a comment card.

And I commented --  on the only real objection I have (other than the museum's unwieldy, tongue-twisting name): the black-shirted, armed, renta-goon that 'welcomes' visitors as they enter the museum's Market Street entrance. Like all museums, the Jewish museum needs security. And, given its special circumstances as a Jewish identity museum, added security is no doubt necessary. But like the most TSA airport security, the armed guard, festooned with a bullet-proofed vest labelled AGENCY, is simply security theatre. (That's AGENCY, as in Acme Security Agency. Hardly, FBI). A crazy, like the nut-case that attacked Washington's Holocaust Museum a few years ago, or a committed terrorist, will not be deterred by the guard. On the other hand, the guard does send a message of another form of terror -- that the museum administration is sufficiently insecure that that it needs intimidate the average museum goer. Hello, hardly kid-friendly. Even the TSA has backed off on scaring children.

Proper security is smart security. Fright wigs aren't the answer.

I was surprised to receive that following thoughtful response:

Mr. Carreno –
Thank you for visiting the Museum and for your note. I’m glad you had a positive experience.

As you can imagine, we must take security concerns very seriously. We are in a highly visible and accessible public location and, sadly, Jewish institutions have frequently been the targets of terrorist attacks and other unfortunate incidents. Our aim is to make our visitors feel safe and secure, which is why we station an armed security guard at the entrance and employ numerous other security measures. Clearly we do not want anyone to feel threatened by our security guards, but we do want those guards to be a visible presence that acts as a deterrent against would-be attackers. We follow this procedure per the advice of some of the leading experts in the security field.

As it happens, yours is only the second complaint or concern about our policy of stationing an armed guard at our entrance since our opening last November. Indeed, many visitors have praised our security measures and told us that they appreciate our attention to that concern.

I hope this answer was helpful and that you’ll visit again.

Jay Nachman
Public Relations Director
National Museum of American Jewish History
101 South Independence Mall East
Philadelphia, PA 19106-2517