Dear WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council:
Introduction: I am pleased that the WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council has decided to hold a public hearing on January 3, 2011 to enable Metro riders to weigh in on the recently implemented WMATA policy to conduct “suspicion-less” bag searches in Metro’s 86 train stations and over hundreds of miles of bus lines in an effort to prevent terrorism in Washington, DC. I am concerned that this policy is ineffective, wasteful, and even dangerous, and may increase the likelihood that the Metro will be regarded as a target for retaliation rather than as a symbol of community, solidarity, and peace.
Who am I: I am a health policy researcher, political activist, and law-abiding citizen who lives in McLean, VA but uses the Metro on a weekly basis to attend meetings in DC. I also coordinate the Nation Magazine Discussion Group in DC.
Context: The Metro bag search policy is being undertaken in the context of continuing unpopular US war policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemin, Somalia, etc., growing domestic surveillance of anti-war activities in the US, undermining civil liberties of American citizens, and use of torture, secret prisons, targeted assassinations, and collateral killings abroad in violation of international law and in pursuit of imperialistic war policies that a majority of American citizens oppose. The bag search policies are also being pursued in the context of a growing fiscal crisis, an intensified attack on public employees from the right and the left, and concerns about a growing police state.
Problems with bag search policy: There are several problems with the WMATA bag search policy that others will speak to including: (1) inconvenience; (2) ineffectiveness since it is easy to avoid; (3) violation of freedom from unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment; (4) the potential for racial and ethnic profiling; (5) diversion of scarce resources from real crime prevention needs in the Metro (such as muggings, thefts, rowdy behavior); (6) discouraging riders who are insulted to be treated like potential “terrorists”; and (7) raising disturbing questions about what will happen to people who refuse to be searched (e.g. will their names be added to a terrorist data base?) and what will happen to various items that are discovered through the bag search even though they have nothing to do with terrorism?
While these are all important concerns in a democratic society, what I would like to emphasize in my brief statement is that random bag searches create the illusion of security, as well as reinforce fear and mistrust, which are dangerous because we are less likely to object to the actions of our government which may provoke retaliation from people who resent the military domination which they feel subject to without recourse. Do we really deserve to be free from retaliation for the war policies that our government conducts “in our name”?
What is needed: Instead of a “suspicion-less” bag search , I think WMATA could create an important precedent to reduce the danger of terrorism by adopting three other policies: (A) the creation of a well-publicized grievance box so that people who are thinking about retaliation can express their grievances in a more constructive way that legitimates them and helps us understand why they feel as they do, and what we can do to rectify the problem; (B) strengthening respect for our civic responsibilities to protect and improve the Metro which should be paid for increasingly through general revenues as a public good because it benefits people who don’t use it as well as those who do, and paying taxes should be seen as a public responsibility rather than an individual burden to be avoided; and (C) exhibiting public art in the Metro for peace and nonviolence instead of military contractor war propaganda advertising.
Thank you for this opportunity to explain why I think that the WMATA bag search policy is likely to be ineffective, wasteful, unconstitutional, and dangerous.
Sincerely, Bob Griss, [...] McLean, VA…