A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


Thursday, August 04, 2005

"What's Common Sense?" asks the ACLU

Since the second, but failed, terrorist attack in London two weeks ago, New York City has instituted a new policy on its subway system: police are searching bags of passengers before they enter.

Seems like a common sense policy to me, not unlike putting one's bag through the scanning equipment before boarding a plane.

But, of course, the ACLU of New York has a problem with it.

The New York Civil Liberties Union will file suit against the city Thursday to keep police from searching the bags of passengers entering the subway, organization lawyers said.

The suit, which will be filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, will claim that the two-week old policy violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection and prohibitions against unlawful searches and seizures, while doing almost nothing to shield the city from terrorism.

It argues that the measure also allows the possibility for racial profiling, even though officers are ordered to randomly screen passengers.

"While concerns about terrorism of course justify -- indeed, require -- aggressive police tactics, those concerns cannot justify the Police Department's unprecedented policy of subjecting millions of innocent people to suspicionless searches," states the suit, a partial copy of which was provided to Newsday.
Rather than violate equal protection, searching bags actually ensures equal protection.

I do agree, however, that searching random bags does not do a thing to shield the city from terrorism. The police should engage in suspect profiling, just as they do when there is a crime committed and witnesses give a vague description. If a witness says "short, albino man, with a huge tattoo on his neck," the police aren't going to be looking for Shaquille O'Neal or Mohammed Atta types. They use common sense to look for a suspect. The same applies here.

And "subjecting millions of innocent people to suspicionless searches" is a ridiculous thing for the ACLU to say. The only reason the police have to do such a thing is because the ACLU throws hissy fits whenever the police target a certain profile---which the police are completely justified in doing.

Apparently the ACLU would be happier if no one was searched and millions of innocent people were, instead, blown up.

Besides,

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of law enforcement to conduct random searches, said Barry Kamins, a professor of criminal procedure at Fordham and Brooklyn law schools. But it found that those checks can be considered unlawful if their primary purpose is for law enforcement, such as searching for evidence of a crime. Rather, police must use the stops chiefly to preserve public safety, he said.
But there again, law enforcement is there to enforce the law, which, in turn, preserves public safety.

Indeed, in a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, 53% NY/NJ subway commuters "said the federal government is not doing enough to prevent terrorist acts on buses, subways and trains."

Passengers do not have to submit to the searches, but those who refuse will not be allowed to board.

Transportation officials reported no delays because of the inspections and few complaints from passengers. "I think they know it's for their added safety," MTA spokesman Tom Kelly said. "In fact, most people have been very willing to do it and appreciative of it."
I like this guy:

"Feelings are going to be hurt," said Chris Caccone, 30, of Brooklyn. "But there's a reason for profiling, because the police can't waste time searching people who are not likely to be carrying bombs, like an old lady."
Sounds like common sense to me, but then, the ACLU doesn't know what that means.

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