A response to the Washington Post

The Washington Post has an unsigned editorial supporting the bag search program in today’s paper, titled “Bag checks, reality checks” in print, and “Metro’s bag checks: Necessary nuisance for a real threat” online.

Their arguments are familiar: there have been terrorist attacks against transit systems, the checks are quick, passengers can refuse, the program is reasonable weighed against the threat. I hope that readers will go to the online editorial and leave comments; I posted mine on 3/8/2011 at 11:56:26 AM under the pseudonym thomasn5281:

This editorial assumes what it seeks to prove, and leaves critical facts off the table.

Of course there have been attacks against transit systems — the question is, will these measures work, and do they preserve civil liberties? The answer to both questions is “no.” The Post conceals (or doesn’t know) that not bringing bags onto a train or bus isn’t the only consequence for bag search refusers; Chief Taborn has said refusers will be “observed” and “watched”, and that the FBI and DHS would be involved in that — making this program far *more* intrusive than those in New York and elsewhere, at least as far as was known until now. The alleged deterrent value of random bag checks at selected locations and times is laughable.

This program isn’t just unconstitutional, it’s stupid. And it’s not just stupid, it’s stupid by definition. Suspicionless searches are an admission of helplessness, lack of ideas, and lack of confidence in our own Constitution. If this is the best security thinking WMATA can come up with, that’s more of an invitation to attack than a deterrent of one.

Johnny Barnes has it right: this program should be stopped.

If you like this, please “recommend” it. But more importantly, write rebuttals of your own, both as comments to the op-ed and as letters to the editor (by emailing letters@washpost.com). Here are the Post’s guidelines.   If you’d like some help getting started, here are some talking points that still hold up well.

It was only a matter of time that the Post would weigh in on the side of WMATA on this; the editorial reads as if General Manager Sarles and Chief Taborn dictated it.  We know what we think; it’s time to tell the Post.

[UPDATE, 3/9: Wow.  By my count, comments are running 31 to 1 against the Post.]

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5 Responses to A response to the Washington Post

  1. As mentioned in prior posts, here are a few other things you can do:

    1) Tweet this post: See the “Share this:” button with the blue cross on it? Mouse over that, then tweet this using your Twitter account. Replace WMATA with #WMATA, “Bag Search” with #BagSearch to help Twitter users following those 2 themes. And/or share to Facebook, Reddit, or other social networks you use.
    2) Sign the ACLU-NCA petition
    3) Like our coalition Facebook pages:
    * Stop Random Bag Searches on Metro
    * Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition
    4) Subscribe to our announcement-only and discussion listservs.
    5) Click the “Notify me of site updates” check box below the “Post Comment” button to get an email message whenever we add a blog post here.



  2. Lisa Simeone says:

    Thomas, my letter, sent minutes ago, with my real name:

    The Washington Post’s contention that random bag searches on the DC Metro are a “necessary nuisance” is not only wrong, it betrays an ignorance of what America is and what constitutes a threat.

    The 4th Amendment isn’t a convenience or a luxury. And the Constitution isn’t some quaint document. One of the principles this country fought for was the right to walk around unmolested by authority figures who could simply stop people at whim and search them.

    Of course someone can plant a bomb on the Metro, or anywhere else for that matter. That’s nothing new. What’s new is this fear and paranoia that A Terrorist is hiding around every corner.

    How many of you advocating for these warrantless searches talk on your cellphones while driving? Or text? Or speed? If you’re so concerned about safety, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and get off the phone? Or drive more responsibly? You’re far more likely to be killed or maimed in a car crash — 43,000 killed per year in the U.S., 2.9 million injured — than you are to get blown up by A Terrorist. Oops — there goes your argument that you’re concerned about safety. But you’re more than happy to hand over your civil liberties, one by one, to the security apparatus that tells you it’s for your own good. Even when, again and again, the smartest security experts in the field tell you it’s not.

    Is there anything you won’t do in the name of security? Is there any point at which you’ll push back? Or will every new requirement that comes down the pike be Necessary For Our Security?

    If the Brits had behaved like this during the Blitz, they never would’ve gotten through it. In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.

    Lisa Simeone
    Baltimore, MD


  3. Thanks, Lisa – that’s a great letter with some great points. Many of us take greater risks (and impose them on others) on a daily basis, yet are OK with curtailing everyone’s liberties for smaller ones. Yet those are the liberties Americans supposedly fight and die for, those are the freedoms “they” supposedly hate us for. — I.e., ‘what she said.’ 🙂


  4. Mary Beth Tinker says:

    Bag searches in the metro are not the answer to making us safer on the metro, in fact they make us less safe by lulling us into a false sense of security. They also represent a further intrusion into our right to privacy. If we really care about safety on the metro, spend some of the $20 million that we will be getting from Homeland Security on increasing personnel, improving lighting, and other measures that would really make a difference to the well-being of riders. And, how about a little democracy while we’re at it? Let’s ask the riders what would help them feel safer. Oh, we already did, and the Riders Advisory Council voted overwhelmingly against bag searches.


  5. Thanks to all who’ve commented! I’d love for everyone to eventually add their responses to the Post here.

    However, a note on tactics: we want the Post to do our work for us by publishing our letters to the editor. So if you wrote a letter to the editor about this, please know that Post guidelines specify that letters to the editor “may not have been submitted or posted to, or published by, any other media.” (They also want contact information to verify that you’re not writing in someone else’s name.) They can’t know about sharing by email (presumably!), but blog posts and comments like these can be Googled.

    But if you…
    * simply left your remarks as an online comment as I did, or
    * you don’t care whether the Post publishes your letter to the editor or we do here, or
    * the Post has already published your letter, or
    * time passes and you judge that the Post won’t publish your letter,

    …please go ahead and share your comment or letter with us at this post. That is, whether or not the Post publishes your remarks, you can at our blog. Building a record of our opposition is important. Thanks!


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