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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Search Me

Daniel Radosh has some cogent thoughts on the NYC subway searches, making two crucial points: 1) The "you're free to refuse a search" line is meaningless for passengers who don't get searched on the way in but get picked on inside the subway. If you're on the platform and a cop asks to look in your bag, what happens when you refuse? Does he escort you out of the station? Arrest you? And 2) There's absolutely no reason to assume that searches won't be expanded to other venues. The argument for subway searches is vulnerability, and vulnerability is a function of the density of bodies in subway cars. If subways weren't crowded, terrorists wouldn't hit them. Well, Times Square can get pretty damn crowded up on the street level. So can restaurants. And movie theaters. There's nothing in the arguments of those who support subway searches that would bar them in other venues. Don't want to subject yourself to a police search on your way into "Wedding Crashers"? Well, you're free to refuse and go rent a DVD.

Here's my question: If, as the NYPD says, the goal of the searches is simply to deter people from entering the subway system with bombs, why do they retain the right to make arrests for other contraband found during the searches? Why don't they say, No action will be taken on any material found during random searches unless the materials found pose an imminent physical threat? I know it would be unusual for New York cops to look the other way if they found a 1/4 oz. of pot in your briefcase, but it's unusual for them to be searching your briefcase to begin with. If, as the pro-search argument goes, extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary sacrifices, why can't the NYPD take one for the team and actually only search for the things it says it is searching for?