Alas, the looming specter of subway searches has finally descended on our nation’s capital. We’ve long assumed it was just a matter of time, but as time came and went, it seemed the tragic fad of frivolous subway searches would elude us. Unfortunately, we were wrong.
Metro officials announced today that they will begin randomly inspecting backpacks, gym bags and any other containers that riders carry with them onto the bus and rail system, in an effort to deter possible terrorist attacks.
In the searches, transit police will choose a random number ahead of time, such as 17. Then they will ask every 17th rider step aside and have his or her bags searched before boarding a bus or entering a rail station.
Police said the inspections would take between 8 to 10 seconds. Those who refuse will not be allowed to enter the system with their carry-on items but will not be detained. [Washington Post]
Our foremost objection to such a program stems from the inherently objectionable notion that citizens must waive constitutional rights and prove their innocence in order to use public transit. Too many citizens remain unaware of their basic constitutional rights regarding search and seizure, a problem that is reinforced considerably when they are subjected to arbitrary police search requests in their daily lives.
Our frustration is compounded, however, by the obvious limitations of such tactics in actually preventing terrorism. We have no doubt that extraordinary numbers of innocent citizens will be subjected to privacy invasions by police, but we fail to understand what role this program can play in protecting the public. The searches are a purely symbolic measure, targeting a small minority of passengers and utterly lacking the tactical deployment that would be necessary to prevent a determined attacker from entering the system.
Comically, the WMATA itself barely even attempts to defend the efficacy of the program in its own FAQ:
Will this really make a difference?
That’s all they could come up with. The program will work because they say it will. This one word answer is the full extent of actual justification offered in defense of a program that curtails the 4th Amendment rights of millions of innocent Americans.
Once again it has become necessary to remind one another that it is these rights – the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our constitution – which our enemies seek to destroy. Any attempt to defend our bodies and our buildings, without also defending our basic freedoms, is nothing but a disgraceful surrender to those who wish us harm. Can there be any doubt that our ritualistic implementation of dubious and invasive public safety programs is viewed by terrorists as a measure of their success?
With all of this in mind, we present The Citizen’s Guide to Refusing DC Metro Searches.