Friday Feels Frisky

Today, the MTA begins to randomly search through bags. Last night, while eating at a new restaraunt in Greenpoint called, Queen’s Hideout we briefly discussed our new situation and I think I can speak for everyone at the table and say no one cares. We understand. I’m curious to hear what others think, however. Do you care that you might be stopped on a busy subway and searched? Will it ruin your morning? Will you feel violated? The one thing I don’t understand, however, is how this deters a possible terrorist act? Should someone be crazy enough to blow themselves up, aren’t they going to do it regardless of who the MTA and the NYPD are searching? I guess this isn’t quite making sense to me. The way I look at it is should someone want to target Grand Central station and they’re taking the G to the 7 to get there but are stopped in Long Island City instead, won’t they just blow up the smaller station in Long Island City and just chalk it up as a lesser event? I just don’t get it. Someone make sense of this for me.

It seems to me, that instead of spending the money hiring the extra hand to conduct random searches they might first get rid of those black turnstiles you see in many subway stations. Because should anything actually happen here, they would act as human cheese graters as a mass of panicking commuters run for their lives in search of ground-lever daylight.

I’m off to work now. Part of me wonders if I’ll ever be searched. That part of me wants to put the ball gag in my messenger bag.

35 Comments

  1. I didn’t see any searching this morning at either end of my commute. From a civil liberties standpoint, I’m surpised that I’m not more skeptical of this attempt to thwart terrorism—maybe that’s because I’ve gotten so used to bag checks at workplaces, airports, museums, etc. How is the subway, a very public entity, any different?

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  2. On a related subject, check out the New Yorker this week. Prepare to be amazed at how on top of counterterrorism the N.Y.P.D. is.

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  3. And finally, before I bid you adieu for the day, as far as the problem you posed…. no, it may not keep would-be bombers off the subway, but I’d say the goal is twofold: Maintain the safety of the greatest number of people possible (hopefully everyone), and send a stern message to attackers that they’re going to have to go back to the drawing board to think more creatively if they’re going to fuck with New York.

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  4. Don’t you find it kinda depressing?
    I guess I would care mostly because of the sad factor, and the fact that, as we all get more used to that kind of thing, we open the door to more intrusive policies.

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  5. Absolutely. That said, I’m not sure that it iss any less disoncerting than the fact that there has been, pre- and post-9/11, a complete lack of security at Amtrak stations.

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  6. Giuliani was pretty clear when asked whether racial profiling was to be used. Well, clear in a master-of-rhetoric sorta way.
    He said that they’re looking for specific characteristics and will stop a subset of people with certain traits.

    So, michele, nobody is gonna find your ball gag unless you put a big ass “What Would Allah Do?” sticker on your backpack.

    As for the civil liberties topic, I feel that since the subways/busses are closed systems – because you have to pay and basically accept a terms of service in using them – that it’s still entirely up to someone to enter or not. The MTA is a public corporation with ownership of the lines, cars, and busses. While it’s arguably an essential system, it’s still separate from pure public space and like museums, courthouses, and schools, there are rules and those rules, if legal, are up to the people running the system.

    If this were happening on the street, it would concern me more.

    I’m still quite sure I’ll hear at least one person today refer to “the right to ride the subway without having my bag searched” and, as I do when people invent rights and swear they’re self-evident, I’ll roll my eyes and move on.

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  7. Missy, I’m shocked you didn’t see any. Grand Central was an absolute mess. They were stopping almost everyone when entering the subway. And on Graham they stopped two folks, too. nuts! I will now read the rest of the comments.

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  8. You gotta admit, it would be pretty hard for some folks to get around without the subway/busses etc. Those who can’t afford cars, ya know? Anyway, mostly I just think it is ALL very depressing. The violence, the searches, the name calling, blah, blah,blah.

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  9. sian, I agree. It’s really depressing. Part of me sort of wants to just ignore it all. I mean, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I felt that way immediately after 9/11. I felt that we should just lie down and say, “Whatever.” I mean, not give up, necessarily but definitely play the martyr and not seek vengeance or get all freaky police state on ourselves. It seems, in a small way, we’re terrorizing ourselves. I dunno. Live and let live without the naivety.

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  10. Toby- I used the word ‘public’ wrongly. Shame on me! I meant it in a loose, high-volume-of-people sense.
    In any case, I agree with you.

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  11. My only problem with this is a theoretical one: acquiescing to random searches of our bodies and possessions in the name of security is but another step in the systematic subjugation of our subjectivity to the state. The panoptic power of surveillance cameras has been revealed to be ineffective. They are now simply recorders to be consulted after an event has happened and have no effect on making people behave differently (or “appropriately”). However, as your jokes point out, the possibility of random bag searches WILL have an effect on our behavior. For example, while you jokingly play with the idea of toting a ball gag around, the fact is that the potential for searches may make someone leave their sex toys at home. It is in this way that such surveillance changes our lives. You might think it’s making you safer on the subway, but it may also take something away from a private individual’s bedroom. or bathroom. or dungeon. i’m rambling. i haven’t read foucault in years and it shows.

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  12. Charlie sounds like Chandler.

    I’m against it fully.

    1, the subway is public. airports, museums, workplaces tend to be private.

    2, racial profiling. Not just because it targets brown people, but its a step towards acceptance of racial profiling in general, and another step towards a controlling police state.

    3, misuse. They pull somone aside for a random search, because they might have a bomb. Instead they find medical marijuana, or something truly noxious like some coke or an unlicensed gun. Random searches cease being random or used to combat terrorism, and terrorism becomes the excuse to search people profiled by race or class that are likely to have committed another crime.
    I am fully against searches on planes as well for this reason – if a scanner can’t pick it up, why do we need agents to rummage through belongings – and while you do see some ‘nice’ looking people getting searched by the feds at the airport, I’ve always seen a predominant number of ‘lower class’ looking individuals.

    4, it encourages terrorism.
    The idea behind terrorism is to spark terror. The trade center happened because no one expected it. The london bombings happened because no one expected it. Everyone knows that you could fuck up NYC’s subways—or any other system. There’s a constant fear for that. You don’t need to blow it up to make people scared that it will happen.
    But if people feel safe and secure because of new security measures, then the terrorists have to prove those measure to be invalid in order to maintain a climate for terror.
    Obvious targets, for a group like al qaeda, isn’t really a good target. OOhh, they can hit NY and London. Big deal. We should be terrified of what they must be planning in some small rural midwestern town —thats whats really going to scare the shit out of people.

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  13. Being that I don’t live there and it doesn’t really apply to me, I’ll be happy to give my opinion. :D

    I think the city officials feel they have to do SOMETHING so that if a terrorist attack occurs, people can’t say, “Hey, you didn’t DO anything!!”. I don’t see it doing a lot of good, but if there’s a chance it could save lives then I say go for it. My understanding from PRM yesterday is that you can refuse the search and leave the station at any time.

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  14. Jon, I don’t think number 3 will happen. And I honestly believe that.

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  15. By assuming that, you sound equally as paranoid as they do. I do agree with number 4, however. I do think it encourages terrorists. Amanda, I think you’re right, too.

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  16. I didn’t see any searches on my commute this morning. I did, however, see three NYPD officers exiting my station at Union St. in Brooklyn as I was entereing this morning. They were toting large steel briefcase-looking things. Bomb squad?

    The random bag searching doesn’t really make me feel any safer, but it doesn’t bother me either. I’d prefer to just have a few officers on every train, moving between the cars rather than have them funbling around with my purse full of lip balm and tampons. I have on more than one occasion seen a suspicious abandonded bag on the train and have been hard-pressed to find anyone to alert while between stations. I always seem to be in the car that is locked so I can’t move between cars to find the conductor.

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  17. It feels necessary, which feels sad. Do I think it will prevent a terrorist attack? Not really. Do I think it may help make people in general feel a tiny bit calmer to see more of a police presence in the transportation system? Yes, many will be comforted by it. I don’t mind waiting in long lines to get on an airplane if it means there won’t be a bomb on board.

    I agree with Jon’s points very much.
    I also feel that unfortunately we are taking steps towards living in a police state, and that is the sort of outcome that would make the terrorists smile.

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  18. Sherri, one night I was on the L train and there was this twitchy man sitting to the right of us. He was holding a SLEW of credit cards, probably about 50 or 75 of them—all different types. He tried to sell one to the person across the way and they kindly avoided all eye-contact with him. I immediately checked for my cards because the top one was identical to on that I have. I watched another woman on the train do the same. I so badly wanted to turn this guy in for obviously having stolen a bunch of credit cards but I couldn’t find anyone. It sucks knowing there are at least 50 people out there who could be his victims. But my hands were tied. Not a thing I could do.
    Anyway, has nothing to do with terrorism, but it’d be a great idea to have more of them around.

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  19. The MTA space is no different than an airport controlled by a port authority. These are spaces with rules and an implicit acceptance of said rules the second you knowingly enter. If anything, your argument should be that it isn’t cool to do this in airports, either.

    As for finding unrelated contraband—if I’m not mistaken, the authority to search has to accompany a stated goal and any secondary contraband found can’t be held against someone. It’s one thing if you’re stopped for speeding and your vehicle is searched, as you’ve already broken a law. I might be off on that point, though.

    On Charlie’s point, it’s not so much an issue of subjugation of our subjectivity to the state as it is taking an active part in the communal effort to prevent infractions. Because it is optional – ie, you don’t have to enter the closed space of the MTA – this isn’t so much a matter forced subjugation as (often reluctant) acceptance. Now, I understand that it does bump the acceptance level up a notch, but I don’t feel like everything is a slippery slope the way a lot of folks do. There is a large gap between having a bag searched when entering a closed transit system (and again—precedent has been set on this topic and the MTA space is no different than any other closed transit space) and giving keys to your house to the cops for periodic sweeps. That gulf will not be crossed, IMO.

    It sounds like I am in favor of all this stuff, but that isn’t the case. I just think that folks are mistakenly treating the MTA system as some sort of special space. Precedent has been set on all transit spaces and other private-public spaces. While I don’t like the idea, I don’t find it alarming at all.

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  20. I personally think we could stand to lose a little of our self-appointed (for lack of a better word) “freedom”. People have assumed so many rights. I don’t want a Singapore state or anything, but if the government needs to step in from time to time, then so be it. We obviously have trouble taking care of ourselves.
    And while they’re searching bags and questioning people, I propose they flog the motherfuckers who leave the gum for me to step on (like anti-smokers who hate the idea of second hand smoke, I’ll stomp an asshole if I have to step on their freshly chewed piece of gum) and the folks who leave their dog’s shit all over the place, too.
    Now adays it seems more and more like “Freedom” means the desire for a total lack of authority.

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  21. I guess I just am not so confident that it isn’t a slippery slope. A lot of things have been going on in this country that I didn’t think would happen. I’m sure I was just naive but it gets you thinking.

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  22. So if they search someone, and find that they’re carrying child porn, what are they gonna do? “You’re free to go molest more kids?” I understand the search and seizure rules, as they apply to “unauthorized searches,” but in this case, isn’t the person consenting to the search, and therefore should be held responsible for anything found in the search?

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  23. My objection is theoretical. I agree that there is a communal responsibility that we all have that trumps individual preference, convenience, and (in some minor ways) privacy. We all submit our automobiles (if we want to own them) for inspection to assure that they meet a base standard for safe use. Nevertheless, it encourages a behavior that must be considered critically and not simply accepted as “the way things have to be because of terrorism.” So I’m not so much opposed to it being done as much as I’m opposed to the rhetoric of its necessity (and, concomitantly, the standard rhetoric of objection).

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  24. Oh, entirely, Charlie. To accept without questioning is shameful. Of course, so is assuming that there is some Right to Closed Bag written faintly in pencil on the back of the Bill of Rights.

    My main problem with this is that it’s being done by armed, licensed-to-kill (hello, London this morning!) agents of the state instead of security guards. I feel that if the MTA, at the request of the city, wants to implement a search policy, it should be performed by people without implicit authority over you as a citizen. It should be treated as a security measure and a component of the MTA, not as an act by he state against citizens.

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  25. While the NYPD is out there on the trains looking for concealed bombs and whatnot, I wonder if they can pummel the punks who leave chewed-up sunflower seeds, chicken bones and sticky spilled beverages all over the trains. And the people who hog seats for their bags. And the people who leave greasy hair smears all over the windows. That would be nice. I wonder if I could become a deputy NYPD so I could bitch-slap anyone who tries to shove their way onto a train before letting others off.

    Hmmm…I see the door of opportunity here…

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  26. Sherri, I nearly fell out of my chair one night when three of the four people I was with said they hadn’t ever seen a chicken bone or someone gnawing on a chicken bone while riding the Subway. Totally disgusting.

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  27. Closet Metro – If I’m not mistaken, searches must be for specific items or types of items. I’m sure that in this case, the constraints are placed on weaponry. If they find a gun, you’re gonna be screwed. Anything else is, in my assumption considered off limits for that search.

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  28. I just yell at people who do all those things on the subway. Usually something like “Um, what are you doing?” If they try to rush in on the train, i’ll either chastise them publically or just stand and block them and everyone else from getting onto the train until the doors start to close. One day someone will punch me.

    What i’ve noticed though – the sunflower seeds are almost always older indian women, the chicken bones have 5/5 times been a 30yr old african american male who eats chicken wings on the train then throws each bone on the ground as he’s done, and the people who force themselves into the train are almost always middle aged women. Being a fucking asshole on the subway knows no bounds – everyone does it.

    Getting back to this – I wouldn’t be worried about falling down a slippery slope—we are SO far down it already.

    Consenting to be searched isn’t really an option though – if you live in nyc and make under 200k a year, you HAVE to take public transportation. You don’t have a choice to consent or not, you just consent.

    I agree with Toby on non-cop searches – I could see that as non offensive. That limits their searching to terrorism related items.

    Also remember two things:
    1 – patrol cops in nyc are racist assholes. they’re the breed who beat protestors, rape inmates, and shoot unarmed black kids in the back 40+ times. and if they’re not invoved in any of that, they’re covering up for someone in their precinct who did.
    2 – cops aren’t lawyers. they don’t know the law, and will lie from deception or ignorance. even if you know your own rights, they don’t care—because they don’t know them or care about them. they’re someone with a badge, a gun, and the excitement of power and ‘doing good’.

    I’m not quite sure about this, but I’ve heard that cops have used refusing to be searched as probable cause for detaining and fully searching somone. (usually the searching is limited to bags only, and its illegal to search the person/worn clothing without probable cause)

    I just can’t comprehend that people say “Well its for terrorism” and allow for searches that have an exceedingly low probability to affect terrorism, but a strong probablity of stipping away privacy and leading to prosecution of menial infractions.

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  29. Actually, my assumption might be a bit off. Search warrants require specific listings of location and items sought, and anything else is immaterial. Warrants aren’t needed, though, in cases where special circumstances apply. I’m curious whether there is a right of refusal (leading at least to immediate expulsion from the transit system) on these bag searches. You are allowed to turn around at an airport and head home. I’m unsure what would happen in such a case in the subway. I’m assuming refusal would fit the profile of a possible terrorist and that the police would therefore have probable cause—sketchy as hell, but probably the case.

    I don’t think the public knowledge of searches taking place immediately destroys the expectation of privacy that is used to support many fourth ammendment claims of illegal search and/or seizure. Over time, this might be the case—and this is perhaps the slippery part. It isn’t quite the erosion of a right, but the classification of ALL transit systems as being places with no “reasonable expectation of privacy” as it is often called.

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  30. Toby-
    No. If they find anything illegal you can be prosecuted.

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  31. oh, here’s a resource from the boston aclu from last summer:
    http://www.aclu-mass.org/mbta/bag_searches.asp

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  32. “I agree with Toby on non-cop searches – I could see that as non offensive. That limits their searching to terrorism related items.”

    Actually, while the psychological/power issues are still a major concern with cops doing the search, the actions of private security guards and the fruits of their searches are NOT covered by the fourth ammendment. A private, non-state agent can go through your shit and find anything they want, then turn it over to the cops. Granted, they don’t have the same guaranteed weight as a cop when testifying, but it’s still a big threat. Don’t take your kiddie porn or ball gags or weed to the mall, folks.

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  33. Jon – thought so. I looked back at a few 4th ammendment rulings and articles and it was pretty apparent. Doesn’t seem like any slopes are slipping—these laws have been around for quite some time, after all.

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  34. Well the laws were there, and its common sense that they would be there. You can’t really imagine that a cop who discovers X in a search for Y is going to ignore it – it doesn’t make sense.

    The slippery slope I was referring to wasn’t the legal one, but the societal climate. As a culture, we are so far down the path of accepting a police state with little personal privacy that I’m really astonished.

    Bush, the current, actually said something intelligent once – I dunno who on his staff wrote it, but it was smart sounding and short enough for him to not fuck it up.
    “The defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom.”

    (btw, i read about it in this wsj article click me, which is a neocon trying to sound like a neocon while defending neocons)

    That quote really struck me—because it makes you really think “If the government wants to advance freedom, then what in the hell do they consider freedom to be?”

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  35. “You can’t really imagine that a cop who discovers X in a search for Y is going to ignore it…”

    Unless it’s discovered during the execution of a search warrant. If so, they have to ignore it. Plain sight doesn’t even apply when a warrant is executed.

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