Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; B04
Responding to no specific threat against the transit system, Metro on Tuesday began to randomly threaten its riders with police searches.
In my Sunday column, I said that Metro launched this program of rider intimidation without discussing it with the riders, who I think even Metro would concede are involved in the operation of the transit system. I'd like to share one of the responses I received from readers.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
So you think that Madrid or London could not happen here? Or that the Metro Rider's Advisory Council knows how to prevent it?
If, God forbid, something happens, we'll all be yelling, "Why didn't they. . ."
Like it or not, this is the world we live in, and spot-checks are a necessary evil.
- Vita Hollander, the District
I think many people will feel this way and submit to the searches.
Others will grumble but submit because they have to get to work, despite Metro's silly defense that anyone can refuse to be examined and instead walk to work.
To be a necessary evil, a thing must be both necessary and evil. I'll concede the latter. The government is stopping, examining and questioning people who have no more sinister intent than to pay a large fare to stand in an overcrowded space. (Such behavior may be nuts, but so far it's not criminal.)
Our revulsion with unreasonable searches is as old as this nation. After Americans got rid of a king who thought searching people was his divine right, they wrote into the U.S. Constitution a requirement that the government must have a really good reason to search a person and be looking for a specific thing.
The government's agents had to convince a court that they met those requirements.
Many of our rights come with some qualifications. In our case, a key test is whether a search is reasonable.
I'm not a lawyer, just a traveler. Based on what I've seen during 22 years of riding Metro, I have no reason to believe that the police inspection program - conducted randomly by a handful of officers at a couple of stations - would stop a terrorist.
Nobody - not even Metro - thinks a determined terrorist is going to submit to a bag inspection. No Metro official has told us that the bag inspections are "necessary" to catch terrorists.
What they are designed to do is create a climate of fear surrounding the use of our transit system.
It's possible that creating a hubbub at a station might deter a terrorist from proceeding into it. It's also possible the terrorist might walk to a nearby station or get on a bus.
Although I'm also not a security expert, I think I can state this without worry of contradiction: There are a lot more riders than there are terrorists.
The climate of fear that Metro intends to create may possibly deter a terrorist, which would be a most excellent thing for all of us.
What's certain is that this government-sponsored climate of fear will intimidate riders. It may be more effective in doing so than the robberies on the trains, the fights in the stations and the thefts in the parking areas, none of which Metro has felt it "necessary" to prevent by supplying a sufficient number of transit officers to protect us.