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Searches on the New York subway
Giving the green light for racial profiling

By Jake Kornegay | August 5, 2005 | Page 16

NEW YORK City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims his policy "struck the right balance between needs for security and protecting people's rights." But the random searches of passengers on New York subways are an invitation to racial profiling--which had already taken place as the program got underway last week.

City officials put the searches into effect in the aftermath of the bombings in London last month. Passengers who are unwilling to submit to a search aren't allowed to board the train. The media did its part, making a great effort to show how compliant transit users were. They quoted person after person who was okay with the searches--and even welcomed them as a means of preventing terrorism.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly promised that no ethnic group would be targeted. "Every certain number of people will be checked," Kelly said. "There will certainly be no racial profiling allowed."

Tell that to Yogi Patell, a CUNY Law student who told NY1 News that he was stopped and his bag searched three times in one day. "It's hard for me to say it's anything else other than profiling," said Patell, who is an intern at the Immigrant Defense Project.

Sarah Grey, who attended a July 23 protest against the search policy, said that a friend from New Jersey who is Indian had been pulled over several times already. "He got in trouble for being late for work because of it," she said. "They ran his license, searched his truck and said things to him like, 'You should shave. You should try not to look suspicious.' He had already stopped wearing a turban after 9-11 because he was afraid for his life."

Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network reports that it has received numerous complaints since police started searching bags. Most were from Latinos. Undocumented workers say they are afraid to ride the subways for fear they will be deported.

Sharpton met with Kelly to discuss the racial profiling of passengers--but he's not opposed to the searches. "I even think some of us are prepared to deal with some intrusion, but that intrusion should be fair and equitable," said Sharpton.

This accepts the assumption that the searches are about "protecting" New Yorkers. They aren't. Like the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded "terror alert," they are about stoking fear--and shifting attention away from an increasingly unpopular war and occupation in Iraq and onto Arab and Muslim scapegoats.

This green light to racial profiling hasn't been accepted without protest. More than 100 people turned out in New York's Union Square July 23 for a demonstration against the searches called by the Troops Out Now coalition.

Rene Haywood attended the rally because she'd already been stopped. "I don't think I look like I pose a threat," Haywood told Socialist Worker. "I wasn't even downtown. I was uptown in the Bronx. So why am I being searched? I'm not just scared for me. I'm scared for everybody, because this is just the beginning." "I'm glad to see anybody speak up," she added.

The searches have already expanded to the Port Authority and New Jersey Transit services, and police departments across the country are eyeing the New York policy.

"They're saying that these searches are going to make us safer, but it's not about safety and security," Roberto Rosario, of the Campus Antiwar Network at City College of New York, said at the protest. Look at the terrorism the U.S. has imposed on the Middle East, including Falluja and the torture scandal. If they don't want terror, they should stop what they're doing. We need to say no to this war."

The politicians and the media are whipping up people's fear in an effort to breathe new life into their "war on terror." We need to keep up the pressure until they stop their racist harassment and violation of our civil rights.

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