Random Searches in New York’s Subway

by DAVID ANDERSON

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: DocInNy@yahoo.com

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal