SAALT Statement for WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council Meeting on 1/5/11

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) recently endorsed the Montgomery County Civil Rights Restoration Act that MCCRC is pursuing.  On Wednesday, the organization also submitted a statement to the WMATA Riders Advisory Council about the Metro random bag search issue:

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national organization whose mission is to elevate the voices and perspectives of South Asian individuals and organizations to build a more just and inclusive society in the United States, calls for WMATA to rescind its policy of random bag screenings for riders. Not only is this policy a misallocation of resources toward ineffective measures that fail to protect the safety of the public or increase national security, the policy also leaves open the door for racial and religious profiling against members of our communities.

While racial and religious profiling have plagued communities of color for decades, since September 11th, the use of this ineffective tactic by law enforcement agencies have had devastating consequences on South Asians around the United States. In particular, Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and others of South Asian descent have been subjected to additional scrutiny and investigation because of their country of origin, religion, race, and other factors in the domestic “war against terror.” These tactics play out in such arenas as airport security screenings, surveillance, as well as informally or unintentionally by local law enforcement officials.

WMATA bag searches are alleged to be random. However, without proper oversight and transparency, it is difficult to confirm that officials do not use racial and religious profiles in choosing the target of a bag search. Proper training and data collection would mitigate the problem. However, in an environment of increased suspicion and vilification of certain groups, the risk of racial and religious profiling would remain high.

Because of the high risk that our communities, including Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and others of South Asian descent, are likely to be unfairly targeted for baggage searches and because the funds allocated for the searches should be applied to crime and terror prevention measures based on actual threats, WMATA’s policy should be rescinded

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