First Step Down a Slippery Slope

In a completely unprecedented move today, the New York MTA has decided it has the right to randomly check the bags of US citizens at all subway stations, on the commuter rails, and on buses. According to the NY Times article, Police Commissioner Kelly announced, “we will be instituting random searches of bags and packages as people enter the transit system,” and that they plan to do it in “a reasonable, common-sense way.”

What the hell does that mean? Since when have ordinary citizens been subject to random searches of their belongings? Kelly added, “he hoped riders would not consider the actions an inconvenience.” Unless there is a credible threat, I’d certainly consider it an inconvenience, and unless there is a credible and imminent threat, I’d also consider it a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I think that about sums it up, and I expect all the right-wing Neo-Con talk show hosts to agree with me, especially Mark Levin, who likes to write books about how the Supreme Court is ruining the country and about how no one cares about the Constitution anymore. Well, I care about it. Haven’t we given away enough of our civil liberties yet?

A quick look on FindLaw notes that even the practice of “Detention Short of Arrest: Stop-and-Frisk” requires the same standard of probably cause to be met as that which would be required for a warrant. Now, I’m no law expert, and no expert on the Constitution, but could someone please explain to me how this new MTA mandate is in any way legal? Is there something I’m missing? Maybe some precedent that was established in US law that provides for this sort of thing? I’d like to know, because I could certainly be wrong, but it does seem as if this is the first step down a very slippery slope.

I used to ride the subway and the LIRR every day. To think that a cop could come on board and search me because he didn’t like the way I looked, or because I had a briefcase or backpack? Well, it was unthinkable at the time. What is the next step? Stop my car? When do we declare that the terrorists have won? It would appear that Raymond Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg have signaled today that, at least in New York City, the terrorists are succeeding.

2 thoughts on “First Step Down a Slippery Slope”

  1. I have a plea for all New Yorkers. Refuse to allow them to check your bags. Be polite, but just say no. If we want to live in a free and open nation we must not allow things like this to happen. We faced a terrible show of police presence during the RNC where the police arrested people at whim, only to have the vast majority (over 90% if I recall correctly) acquitted of all charges by the court. Street were closed down, and normal people going about their daily business were subjected to an overt show of unnecessary force and obstacles. We cannot allow this country to follow this path. We must not sacrifice our liberty. We, as a nation, preach equality, freedom and democracy, yet we are continuing to erode our own freedoms. In the case of unprecedented search in NYC mass transit, I propose civil disobedience.

  2. Just so people are prepared, the NYCLU has already cried foul on this practice, and has provided some publications on what your rights are and what you can do to defend them.
    In particular, you might want to carry a police bust card which details what you should do if you’re stopped by police. While you should not argue with them, or resist in any way (you can do something about abuse later), you do have the right to refuse a search and they then must provide a warrant to search you. They may arrest you for this, but you have rights and you still do not have to consent to a search. You can ask if you are free to go or if you are being arrested. If they arrest you, they need to tell you why you are being arrested. They must provide a lawyer for you.
    I wouldn’t be opposed to showing ID, but if I’m in NYC and they ask to search me, they’ll get a refusal here as well.

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