The searches that have begun on the New York subway are only the beginning.
Cities all over the country are already falling in line and readying to install
similar procedures on all mass transit lines. The purpose is two-fold: One,
it is designed to keep up the level of fear, to keep the threat of terrorism
ever present and on the minds of everyone of the millions of people who use
mass transit each day. The second is to desensitize people to living in a Police
State, to get them used to relinquishing their rights to the authority of the
police and to get them accustomed to being under constant surveillance and scrutiny.
NEW YORK (AP) - Straphangers seemed resigned to random bag searches Friday
as police across the region stepped up transit security in response to the new
round of attacks in London.
"They should have done this long time ago, ever since 9/11," said stockbroker
Ron Freeman, 25, who had his backpack searched Friday morning at a subway station
in Brooklyn. "I don't mind if they're doing it for the right cause."
Random searches also are being conducted on buses, ferries and commuter railroads,
and anyone who refuses a search won't be allowed to ride. Those caught carrying
drugs or other contraband could be arrested.
Outside the Long Island Rail Road station in Brentwood, where the police presence
had been beefed up, officers arrested a man Thursday evening they said had weapons
in his car and a 1996 conviction for possessing a pipe bomb. He had been stopped
because of complaints that he was illegally soliciting cab passengers, police
At the Lafayette Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, Greg Morgan, 30, was among
those whose bag was searched Friday. "I don't know how effective it will
be, but if it makes people feel more secure, it's OK."
Police stopped every fifth person with a bag entering the station. Each search
took only a few seconds, and police appeared to be stopping people of all ages
and races. In some cases, officers dumped the contents onto a table set up near
the turnstiles, and in others they rifled through the bags.
Ten more officers and a bomb-sniffing dog were seen milling around the Brooklyn
"I thought it would never come to this," said William Reyes, 40,
who was not searched.
"Surely, we do need it," Reyes added. "I don't like our privacy
being invaded but given the circumstances around the globe, I understand it."
At a subway station in the Bronx, a police officer with a bullhorn informed commuters
of the new policy, and a sign propped up on an easel read: "Backpacks, other
containers subject to inspection."
It took police five minutes to go through Davon Campbell's bags. "It's
important to search even when you have three bags," said Campbell, 24.
"It doesn't bother me."
"Everyone's been very cooperative," said Officer Julio Seda, one
of those doing the inspections. "Unfortunately, in the times we live in,
it's a necessary evil."
New York's subways carry about 4.5 million passengers on the average weekday.
The system, the largest in the country, has more than 450 stations, most of
which have multiple entrances.
The inspection of bags and packages started on a small scale Thursday afternoon
and was expanded during Friday morning's rush hour.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said the new measures violate basic rights
and could invite racial or religious profiling.
"The plan is not workable and will not make New Yorkers more secure but will
inconvenience them as police go about finding a needle in a haystack," NYCLU
executive director Donna Lieberman said.
But Rajesh John, 34, who is of Indian heritage, said he did not object to being
selected for a bag search at the Woodlawn subway station in the Bronx.
"No not at all. We agree with this," said John, who was heading to
his job at an accounting firm in Manhattan. "It's necessary because of
what happened in England."
Police said they had considered instituting bag searches for three years. The
emerging pattern of attacks on transit targets in London forced their hand,
said Paul Browne, the New York Police Department's chief spokesman.
Officials declined to specify where the checks would be conducted or how long
they would last. The NYPD had already doubled the number of officers who patrol
the subway after the initial attack in London on July 7, at a cost of $2 million
a week in overtime.
"We just live in a world where, sadly, these kinds of security measures
are necessary," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is known to ride the
subways to work himself. "Are they intrusive? Yes, a little bit. But we
are trying to find that right balance."