July 26, 2005

Also, the Warriors never would've been able to get back to Coney

More on the random bag searches that serve no purpose except to supposedly make us "feel safer," a rationale EoK rightly mocks as security-as-therapy. True to form, the SCLM is lining up to support the measure -- as long as, get this, the police can guarantee that they're conducting searches with no regard for probable cause at all, and that the searches continue in perpetuity. You know you're in trouble when the Times is urging the government to restrict civil liberties even more.

Fortunately there's a growing grass-roots opposition. It may not accomplish much, but it does have the most witheringly sarcastic FAQ I've seen in a long time. ("Q: Why should I worry about being searched if I have nothing to hide? A: Congratulations on having nothing to hide - how exciting for you...") (And speaking of which, it didn't take long for that mission creep to creep in, as Jersey cops looking for bombs arrested a 21-year-old for illegal possession of fireworks. If the searches accomplish nothing else, at least they'll help the precinct meet its quotas).

This story has implications beyond New York City, of course. On Friday Slate noted that that one difference between subway and airport searches was that "air travel is generally considered one of several options that a traveler might have—if they don't want to be searched, they can drive or take the bus." Tell that to travelers at Port Authority Bus Station, who are now greeted by a sign informing them that "Passengers who do not agree to such inspections shall not proceed beyond this point and are advised to make alternate travel arrangements." If you think cars aren't next, just wait until a car bomb goes off in Knightsbridge.

So far there are no such signs in the subways, but why not? While the Times says the searches pass muster because "no one can be arrested simply for leaving and not allowing a search," what's to stop the cops from posting a notice that entering the subway at all implies consent to be searched? At that point, they could stop you not just on the turnstiles, but on the platforms and trains too. And if you refused, you could and most certainly would be arrested. If not shot. As John McGloin writes in a letter to the editor today, the police in London who shot an innocent man eight times were essentially doing the terrorists job for them. "Asymmetrical warfare means that the terrorists are at a disadvantage, not the other way around. The goal of terrorists is to divide their enemies. By joining in on the violence and reducing freedom, we are amplifying the fear and being used as tools in their game." The searches are hardly as awful as a killing, but they're on the same spectrum.

My buddy Gersh Kuntzman is working on a story about this for the Radar web site and I've given him some questions to ask about what specifically your rights are when you decline to be searched (e.g., can you walk to another entrence? come back in ten minutes?) It's curious that no local newspaper has asked these questions, but the responses Gersh got may be more curious still. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, if you've been stopped or searched, you may want to fill out the NYCLU survey to help it prepare a brief.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

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