The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has filed suit against the city to keep police from searching the bags of passengers entering the subway. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, claims the two-week old policy violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection and prohibitions against unlawful searches and seizures—while doing almost nothing to shield the city from terrorism. “While concerns about terrorism of course justify—indeed, require—aggressive police tactics, those concerns cannot justify the Police Department’s unprecedented policy of subjecting millions of innocent people to suspicionless searches,” states the suit.
Among five plaintiffs was Brendan MacWade, 32, of Brooklyn, who escaped the World Trade Center towers after they were struck by hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001. “I want to catch terrorists as much as any politicians or officials but this policy does not work,” he said.
Another plaintiff, Joseph Gehring Jr., who identified himself as a lifelong Republican, said he was disappointed to find subway riders accepting the police inspections so docilely. “Here we were giving up our rights to what was obviously a publicity stunt,” he said. “We are becoming accustomed to having our civil liberties taken away.”
Gail Donoghue, a city lawyer said the city’s random subway searches “meets all appropriate legal requirements and preserves the important balance between protecting our city and preserving individual rights… We are confident our position will prevail in court.”
The city is named as a defendant, along with the police department and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The suit comes as elected officials continue to tussle over racial profiling. Nine City Council members have asked Bloomberg to direct officers to note the racial or ethnic identity of people searched. The call came after a city councilman and a state assemblyman suggested young Arabs should be targeted for searches. “The mayor has repeatedly stated since the start of this policy that there would be zero tolerance for racial profiling,” said a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Newsday’s coverage of the press conference pictured City Councilman John Liu and Sikh Coalition legal director Amardeep Singh, two leading voices against ethnic profiling. (Newsday, Aug. 4, via Chicago Tribune)
See our last post on fear in New York City.