On Thursday, the WMATA Board of Directors “Customer Service and Operations” committee will take up the Riders Advisory Council’s recommendations against WMATA’s ‘random’ bag search program.
But no matter what happens in that meeting, a strong civil liberties coalition against the bag search program has taken shape — and taken action.
Following a board decision last week to go forward with a campaign against the WMATA bag search program, the ACLU-NCA (National Capital Area) has sent out an e-alert to thousands of local supporters urging them to contact WMATA board members — and linking to “Citizen Lobby Sheets” like this one developed with the help of supporters like you.
The executive directors of the ACLU-NCA, the ACLU of Maryland, and ACLU of Virginia had already weighed in on the issue in December with a letter — hand delivered to WMATA directors — questioning the decision to go forward with the program. ACLU-NCA executive director Johnny Barnes also spoke during public comment periods during WMATA’s Riders Advisory Council (RAC) hearings in early January.
Barnes points out today that “In 2008, the WMATA Board considered and decided against such a program. Yet, it was instituted by the Metro Police Chief and the now General Manager in December 2010, without consultation with or the approval of the Board. What happened to cause this change between then and now? Nothing! There have been no terrorist incidents and no threats, thus apparently no reasonable cause for the change in policy. When combined with public statements from the Chief and General Manager that there is “no specific reason or threat” for instituting this program, the constitutionality of it is left in great doubt. As a military veteran, I am offended that some in authority would so casually toy with our rights and cast them aside, seemingly whimsically.”
The national Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) is also mobilizing local supporters, as is the Defending Dissent Foundation — whose Sue Udry made a powerful customizable email generator for sending messages against the bag search program to WMATA’s board of directors. BORDC executive director Shahid Buttar explains why BORDC is paying close attention to the issue: “Metro’s bag search program is a frontal assault on the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for individualized suspicion to justify a search. Even worse, it sacrifices constitutional rights on the altar of appearances, rather than meaningful security.” Udry adds, “The response to our mobilizing efforts has been amazing. People in the D.C. area do not want to be treated like criminals when they attempt to board trains or buses. They recognize the random bag search program for what it is: unconstitutional, ineffective, inconvenient and a waste of everyone’s time and money.”
We’re fighting a good fight, and we’re fighting it as hard and as well as we know how to do. Please help by lobbying WMATA directors, signing our petition — and supporting great allies like Defending Dissent, BORDC, and the ACLU-NCA with donations so they can continue their important work. Thanks!