Thursday, July 21, 2005

Creeping creeps and slippery slopes.

All right, given that I ride the subway every day, along with 8 million New Yorkers, and given that a bomb could easily be placed in an over-the-shoulder bag, I really don't mind this new policy, that will likely be temporary, of police randomly taking a peak into passenger bags, with their consent, and with a passengers right to refuse and leave the subway station. I doubt, even, that these will be thorough searches. More like: unzip, cop looks... hmmm, says cop, that does look like a laptop computer and a library book, travel safe.

But, every time I swallow some of my social libertarianism and make a compromise, the authorities dissapoint me.

As the Washington Post article says: "If an officer looking for explosives finds some other form of contraband, police said that person would be subject to arrest."

Now, wait a minute... the police have no cause to search for other contraband. Obviously, the vice squads would like nothing more than to open the bag of every chilled out rastafarian, giggling couple coming home from a club and hyped up Wall Streeter in order to check for mood causing substances, but, we rightly see that desire as something that needs to be regulated.

My advice to New Yorkers who like to party and who might use the subway: if you have anything the police might frown upon, keep it in a wallet or mini-purse -- something so small that it couldn't possibly contain explosives.

More seriously -- if the goal of this is really, only to keep explosives and other dangerous devices off of the public transportation system, which is a goal that riders and government both share, then they should explicitly say that they're looking for weapons and will turn their gaze away at anything else. Sure, that would let some pot carriers off, but it's a small trade off. The benefit would be that even hardcore civil libertarians could find some cause to moderate their views in this instance. In a lot of ways, I think, people's mistrust of the government comes not from their hatred of paying taxes but because the government is so rarely specific. Can't they, every now and then, say: "We have one goal and are pursuing only that goal?"


At 1:32 PM , Blogger Ideasculptor said...

When I first read this, I agreed with you, but now that I've thought about it, I no longer do.

For starters, I am not convinced of the effectiveness of the stratgey. It seems to me that the terrorists will just do as they have always done, and if they get called up to be searched, they'll just detonate their bomb right there, in the crowd of people who will presumably trying to get past the checkpoint. It will make synchronized explosions like the attacks in London more difficult, but not put a stop to much of anything. And with 8 million New Yorkers to look at, it will be all too easy for a terrorist to slip through the net, regardless.

Even with a promise to overlook crimes other than terrorism found during such a search, the opportunity for abuse is too good to be passed up. More importantly, however, once we've given such a freedom up, it will be difficult to get it back. If random searches in the subway prove ineffective, the next step will be random searches and id checks on the streets. And when that proves ineffective, the only logical next step is random searches of your home. Law enforcement was explicitly denied the right to unreasonable searches and seizures in the constitution, and I see no reason to sacrifice that freedom on the alter of 'safety.' Talk about letting the terrorists win! Let's try to keep these deaths in proportion, here. Less than 500 people have lost their lives to terrorism in western cities since 9/11. How many have lost their lives to defective products, tobacco, car accidents, plane crashes, alcohol abuse, and god only knows what else?

The freedom from unreasonable search and seizure is one of the foundations of our democracy and also one of the methods put in place to check the power of the government. As we slide down the steep slope to fascism, I am inclined to protect every one of those freedoms fiercely, as we may well find that we need them not so far in the future. Should we really give up the freedom and justice that make us the target of terrorists in the first place, merely to prevent their attack?

And to those that think I am being alarmist...I've had 2 conversations in the last 24 hours with individuals who think the time has come to simply eradicate all muslims. I know a number of others who would agree. The reality is that, should a democrat win in 2008, and GWB subsequently refuse to step down, these are people who would actgually defend GWB. Better that then let the godless, appeasing liberals run the country again. Admittedly, these are all pretty typical angry right wingers, the type who refuse to see even the slighest defect in GWB or his policies, but people like that make up a not insignificant percentage of the population, and their numbers grow every time this administration is able to put the fear of terrorism back into them.

With the vote to renew the patriot act yesterday, and the searches in NYC, coupled with a growing national hysteria about muslims in general, things are really starting to look ugly. Interestingly, both of the people I mentioned easlier equated our fight against terrorism with our fight against nazi germany. Never mind the ridiculousness of any parallels between islamic fundamentalist terrorism and a nationalist attempt to commit genocide and take power over all of Europe through military might, the assertion made me notice the parallels between what is happening here and the ascension to power of the national socialists in 1930's Germany.

I don't think we can afford to be giving up the rights granted to us (and fought and died for) by the founders of this country, regardless of the circumstances. If that means that some Americans may lose their lives in order to preserve our democracy, then all I can do is ensure that their sacrifice is worthwhile by keeping our freedoms sacrosanct. Should another attack occur, it would be a tragedy, to be sure, but not nearly so great a tragedy as the loss of democratic freedoms in the country that is considered the birthplace of modern democracy.

If the authorities were truly concerned about safety and security, rather than increasing power for law enforcement, they would make carrying out the searches a civilian function, with the explicit purpose of only looking for explosive devices or other tools of terrorists. If those who are empowered to conduct the searches are not empowered to enforce any other laws, we could go a long way to keeping our civil liberties secure. Until they do, I am totally opposed to such measures. Not only will they be ineffective, but they pose a greater threat to our way of life than a terrorist attack ever will.

At 1:50 PM , Blogger Ideasculptor said...

I forgot about this lovely little quote from Ben Franklin

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home