How to Flex Your Rights in the DC Metro
Metro Transit officials are implementing random police searches of passengers’ bags and packages. Flex Your Rights believes free people should never have to prove their innocence in order to use public transportation. Nor do we see any evidence that these searches will reduce the terror threat.
Until we succeed in eliminating these searches altogether, here’s how you can assert your rights if confronted by a random search checkpoint.
1. When Refusing a Search, Be Cool
If you choose to walk through a random search area and are stopped, you may refuse to be searched. If police ask to search your belongings, remain calm and courteous. And don’t ever — under any circumstances — talk back or raise your voice to the police officer. You have nothing to gain — and everything to lose — by escalating the hostility level of the encounter.
Calmly and clearly say “Officer, I do not consent to any searches. I’m going to exit the station.” Then immediately exit the station — and do not return through the same entrance.
2. Refusal is Not Guilt
WMATA states that randomly selected individuals who refuse to be searched “will be prohibited from bringing [unsearched] items into the station” Such a refusal will not constitute probable cause for an arrest or reasonable suspicion for a forcible detention.
Warning: If you refuse to be searched and attempt to enter the turnstile anyway, you may be detained or arrested.
3. Shut Your Mouth and Your Wallet
You do not have to answer any police questions or give any information — including your name, ID citizenship or immigration status — whether or not you consent to a search. But remember, anything you say can be used against you.
4. Do Not Physically Resist
Again, it is illegal for police to search, detain, or question you just because you refuse a search. But if the police proceed to detain, search, or arrest you despite your wishes — do not physically resist. You may state clearly but non-confrontationally: “Officer, I am not resisting and I do not consent to any searches.”
5. DO NOT RUN!
If you refuse to be searched and run into the station, you could be shot to death! In 2005, an innocent man was shot in the head by police in a London subway station. The man had reportedly run away after being approached and startled by an undercover officer. If you’re approached by anyone suspicious in the subway, walk to the nearest uniformed officer for help — but don’t run away.
6. Report Abuses
If you believe your rights have been violated, don’t argue with or threaten police. Again, state clearly but non-confrontationally that you do not consent to what the police are doing. Ask any witnesses for their names and phone numbers.
Write down the officer’s name and badge number and everything you remember as soon as possible. You should submit a complaint to the Metro Transit Police, but please review our tips on responding to misconduct before doing so.
If you’d like to express concerns about the program in general, you can submit a complaint to WMATA here.
7. Spread the Word!
Forward this guide to other subway riders, and sign the petition demanding WMATA immediately stop the searches. You should also contact local organizations working to stop the searches, including ACLU of the National Capital Area and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition.