Friday, July 22, 2005

Ihre Papieren, Bitte!*

Via Pandagon:

New York City will begin tomorrow morning randomly checking bags at subway stations, commuter railways and on buses, officials announced today in the wake of a second wave of bombings on the London transit system....

What a singularly stupid idea!

I've actually had somewhat of a preview, and this new directive doesn't bode well at all. I had to go to the Court building downtown to change the date for my jury duty. I was there on personal business, so I had my regular, day-to-day bag with me. It's a perfectly ordinary bag, and so are its contents...except for the occasional stray medical accoutrement[s]--a stethoscope, some sharps, 4x4s, test tubes, a tourniquet or two, etc. For the record, I have no idea how these things always seem to manage to find their way into my bag [gnomes, I suspect]. It's not like I have a need for an emergency speculum, or I'll save some stranger's life by administering a Diflucane pill. In any case, resistance is futile, and I've learned to live with the reality of odd things in my bag.

So, after the bag was X-rayed, the entrance guards wanted to search it. I cautioned them to be careful, and to wear gloves. [If I accidentally get stuck while rummaging through my bag, no problem; I know the needle is sterile, and where it comes from. However, it would be irresponsible to allow a stranger to search my bag without alerting him/her to the potential risk.] Unfortunately, my earnest warning activated an entire platoon of guards and guardettes.

I'm not too keen to admit this, but initially I totally didn't get what all the fuss was about; actually, I was mildly annoyed. [Potential terrorism didn't even remotely cross my mind.] I was still relatively calm while I explained to them what I do for a living, but I almost lost it when I was asked to "prove it!" How exactly? Offer to perform a Pap test...insert an IUD...find a pregnant woman and deliver her on the Court's steps?

Long story short, once they expressed their concerns about bioterrorism, I actually felt bad and apologized. [Still not entirely sure how a stethoscope, or a butterfly works as a terrorist tool, but I should've at least figured out on my own why the guards would be all atwitter at the sight of medical equipment.]

They did allow me to proceed and go about my business, but only under escort. Imagine the poor jury duty clerk when I made my entrance surrounded by armed guards. I received a six months postponement even though I wasn't asking for one.

Hmm, initially, all I wanted to do was to recount for you a somewhat humorous personal story, but the more I think about this topic, the more enraged I become. Think about it. Starting tomorrow, in the United States of America, if you do not subject yourself to an arbitrary police search your freedom of movement will be restricted. Brilliant!

Doesn't the almost guaranteed [in]effectiveness of this terrorism-prevention tactic fill you with awe and wonderment? Because I know I'm starting to feel tingly all over [TIA anyone?].

Update: I actually had to take a subway this morning. There was a new addition to the station's entrance--a policeman, all decked out in reflective gear [why that particular type of gear in the daytime eludes me]. Anyway, his back was turned, he was facing the park, and he appeared to be contemplating the birds, the bees, and the dogs on their morning walks. [Good. A much more pleasant endeavor than searching ordinary strangers, or sifting through a bombing rubble.] Inside the station, on the platform, and inside the subway car, nothing interesting or unusual to report, so I had time for a quick survey. There were 26 passengers (the car was relatively empty). There were 14 people (both sexes) with fairly large backpacks. In addition, I counted 5 women with bags large enough to fit a kitchen sink in. Now multiply that by 10, the number of cars for one train, times n trains per day. You get the idea.

Bottom line: Random police bag searches are not the answer. By the time a suicide bomber enters a subway station, the only things that will help prevent an attack are a bit of luck, and ordinary citizens who are alert and prepared to let idiotic terrorists know, in no uncertain terms, that their presence will not be tolerated.

*from nickpdx's comment at Pandagon


At 10:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how they do it, and they aren't always successful, but the Israeli police/military seem to have a pretty good record of finding bombs/suicide bombers before the bombs go off.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

London police have I'm afraid totally over-reacted. Aside (!) from shooting dead a perfectly innocent Brazilian, I saw them on Sunday doing a full pat down search on a 40-something white bloke outside a Tube station who just happened to be carrying a not-particularly-large backpack. I didn't feel reassured - such a random approach is obviously only wild flailing around that just endangers and inconveniences innocent people going about their business.


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