Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Random Searches in New York’s Subway


Perhaps the greatest outrage about the new New York City government’s policy of random bag searches in the subway is the lack of outrage about it. Where are the stories about people turning around and not being searched, interviews with opponents of the policy, or even an in depth discussion of the legalities of it?

The way it has been sold to the public by almost the entire media in New York is “is it popular”, as if general acceptance is justification for a policy which goes further legally than any other in recent times. Anecdotally, the media would have us believe it is a very popular move, something that knowing New Yorkers, and being one, I find hard to believe.

Regardless, popularity is surely not the issue here. If it were put to the popular vote, there are some states where the deportation of Arab-Americans would no doubt win local elections. We have a Supreme Court, or rather will probably soon say, we HAD a Supreme Court one of whose primary functions is to preserve the rights of the individual. If it weren’t for those “Activist Judges” it is quite possible schools STILL wouldn’t be integrated, there would be no freedom of choice when it comes to reproduction, and almost certainly religion and state would have become terribly mixed. But we have hardly heard a word from judges, or the ACLU, last bastion of personal rights in America, about the random searches of the effects of innocent commuters.

The only real discussion has been the specter of racial profiling, thus taking the argument away from “Should we be doing this at all?” to “How best do we do this?”

Not only is the policy invasive of our rights, it is totally ineffective and probably counter-productive. Suicide bombers are almost by definition fanatics whose whole life’s meaning has become this one act, something they’ve trained for, thought about, risked all for, possibly traveled vast distances to accomplish, and forsaken even life itself for. Are a few bored cops at a minority of subway stations and busses really going to prevent them from going about their horrible missions? Even in the BEST case scenario it will only lead to immediate detonation at the search point, an act which could kill more people than a detonation in a subway car itself. Indeed, in the “bring it on” ideal our president is famous for, aren’t these searches basically daring the bombers to strike and thus humiliate our feeble efforts?

We hear comparisons between this policy and airport searches. For a start, catching planes is optional, for most New Yorkers, catching public transport isn’t. Are we to risk being fired for tardiness because we turned around and didn’t want out possessions riffled through by the government?

Secondly, airport searches are fairly effective, they provide a real barrier to taking explosives and metal weapons onto planes. And finally courts have held that magnetometers and metal detectors are not “searches”. By any standard, a policeman poking through your handbag or back pack is a search’.

And again we hear that famous cliché, the one President Bush can’t go on TV without saying – it “Sends a message.” The message senders, these same people who oppose a vaccine for Human Papiloma Virus, morning after contraception, needle exchanges, and even condoms, love this policy. The whole over-worn (count how many times a day you hear it) “Send a message” cliché is usually employed as a veiled threat or justification for all manner of stupidities, from invading Iraq, to wellsubway searches. When you hear it, as well as that old chestnut “In this post 9/11 world”, you just know something terribly stupid or some horrible policy is about to be announced. A policy like random bag searches.

The final horror here is that there’s nothing to suggest this is the government’s last demand. Freedom is usually destroyed in a gradual manner, it is less noticeable then. It is a short step from random subway bag searches, to random street searches, from making it optional to making it compulsory, from not asking for ID, to demanding it. And this latest policy has been put in place without even any terrorist actions against the United States! Imagine how few rights we’ll have left when something does happen here?

What freedom do we have when the government can do exactly what it wishes because it has manufactured a climate of fear like this administration has, and what freedom do we deserve when we as a society and as individuals just lie down and take it?

DAVID ANDERSON is a criminal defense attorney in New York City. He can be reached at:


David Anderson has a B.A. (Hon.) in Middle East politics from Melbourne University and did post graduate work at Georgetown University. He grew up in Australia and is a retired attorney in New York City.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria