August 11, 2005

Search Seizure


From The Wall Street Journal: The Other War; The ACLU thinks cops are a bigger threat than terrorists.

A solemn handful of plaintiffs surrounded New York Civil Liberties Union head Donna Lieberman last week as she announced the agency's latest lawsuit--this one targeted at new procedures allowing for the random inspection of bags carried onto the subways. This will not come as a surprise--the agency has had an exceptionally busy few years, since 9/11, campaigning against expanding police powers, increased surveillance and other antiterror measures, all of which, the NYCLU and likeminded watchdogs regularly inform us, pose a greater danger than any that might come from the terrorists themselves. ...

The head of the NYCLU ... charged not only that the random bag searches didn't work but that they were also likely to lead to racial profiling. She explained how this would happen in a statement that would require, of those who read it, the deciphering talents of the Enigma codebreakers: "Although the NYPD claims that they are conducting searches that are purely random, the large number of people entering the transit system and the lack of control over that traffic result in people being selected for search in a discretionary and arbitrary manner, which creates the potential for impermissible racial profiling." ...

Ethnic/racial profiling may not, in fact, work very well as a security strategy--but the frenzy of the attacks it has excited tells more than we may want to know about our post-9/11 condition. Large numbers of citizens of every religion and ethnicity lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. Today, a strategy designed to help ensure that such a calamity will not again occur has been converted to a bizarre race-discrimination issue, subordinated to the concerns and ambitions of politicians. This won't, in the end, do much for the office-seekers and -holders now competing for the honor of delivering the most hysterical denunciations of ethnic and racial profiling. What, after all, can citizens (black and brown among them) think of leaders still prepared to argue that young Arab males receive no more scrutiny than the famous 80-year-old little grandmother--and that the people's security lies in measures clearly the least suited to assuring their safety?

UPDATE -- Aug. 13: Mark Jaquith has already noted an important aspect of the searches -- they're voluntary

Posted by Forkum at August 11, 2005 06:38 PM