Not My Bag, Baby!

Photo by Me!
Photo by Me!

Today over at LAist, Zach tells of LASD teaming with DHS and ramping up random bag checks on L.A.’s metro rail lines. Apparently this practice started nine months ago, but due to an influx of federal funding, the program will be increasing in frequency.

I have nothing factual to add to this story, but I certainly have an opinion. That opinion is, “God. dammit!” Now a Metro system that was already of limited usefulness to me just became a little less palatable.

I am so f’ing tired of bag checks, taking off my shoes at the airport, cavity searches at the car wash…wait. Everyone else gets those too, right? Just me? Gotta stop asking for the “Deluxe Wash.”

Seriously, though, I don’t think I’m overreacting here. In case you hadn’t noticed, the terrorists have won. A terrorist’s objective is not to kill a few people; it is to cause terror among the masses. They have achieved their goal. They have caused us to abandon life as we knew it, and allow ourselves and our actions to be governed by fear. There are far too many people who are far too comfortable with the idea of opening up their bags anytime someone with a badge asks, in the name of “security.” That oft-used quote by Ben Franklin is true; those willing to give up liberty for security deserve neither.

What about it, Los Angeles? Are you as tired of this as I am? Or, am I way off base? Are you more than happy to submit to strip searches, as long as it means imagined back-pack bombs don’t get on the train with you? Here’s your chance to sound off.

(As an aside, I think it’s ironic that if you click on that DHS link above you’ll go to the Department of Homeland Security’s homepage, which features the tag line “Preserving Our Freedoms, Protecting America.” Italics mine.)

22 thoughts on “Not My Bag, Baby!”

  1. I hate to confess it, but I am lazy. And I’m not carrying anything illegal. So a big part of me doesn’t care. Just like I don’t care when they ask to check my receipt at the door of Target, even tho there’s no law requiring me to show said receipt, and their practice of checking receipts treats all their customers as would-be criminals…

    I ideologically oppose the searching, but I have so many other demands on my energy, attention and time that fighting yet another chip-away at our civil liberties seems not worth the effort. As a member of the American public I’m tired, overwrought and often just want to get through the day. Raising a ruckus over bag checks is, sadly, too much work.

    I sound like such an asshole.

  2. Wait. I’ve had cuticle nippers, clippers, and keychain pocket knives confiscated at the airport, among other obvious non-lethal sundry items.

    I’m an architecture student and this creeps me out. On any given day my bag is loaded with metal straight edges, compasses, box cutters, exacto knives and technical pencils. Were I ever to be roughed up or detained over my tools of trade I might just lose my shit altogether and BECOME dangerous in the moment.
    Count me in agreement with Ben Franklin. Evil exists, as does terror, and we are evolving in every way both positive and negative. These measures are stop-gap and only work against our highest intention long term. Consenting to this lemming mentality is pathetic admission of having lost sight of the big picture. Freedom.

  3. Burns, I agree. The terrorists have won, or at least they are winning thus far. Not only did we lose freedoms when traveling (and my friend John Rosenthal has written some interesting pieces
    about how many of these steps are useless window dressing designed to give us the illusion of safety), our Constitution has been shredded to the point where warrantless wiretapping and torture had become commonplace. And, at the height of terrorist fear after 9/11/01, in the name of fighting a “war on terrori,” we enacted the so-called “Patriot Act” and then embarked on a war in Iraq, which has cost over 4 thousand lives, bankrupted the country to the tune of a trillion dollars, and had nothing to do with combatting terrorism. Thus, it’s no wonder that many people feel too overwhelmed or preoccupied to be bothered by one more bag check on the subway.

  4. “War on terrori.” Sounds catchy, huh? One of these days, I’ll write comments earlier in the evening when I’m more alert!

  5. If I am ever asked to have my bag searched on the metro, I will refuse.

    Of course, I will then probably be asked to leave the metro. Then the big question is, do I want to refuse to leave and get arrested? Perhaps that is the only way to get illegal searches overturned by challenging them in court with the ACLU by your side.

    But really, bag checks on the friggin’ metro? like it is a terrorist target? shit, most people don’t even KNOW that los angeles has a subway.

    I also refuse to show my receipt at stores and just keep walking. If they want to call the cops, I encourage them. If they try to stop me physically, I’ll call the cops myself, dammit.

  6. One day I saw a person with a large bag board the metro red line. That person should have been searched for a possible bomb….

    Then again back before 9/11 I did board the metro red line with a shopping cart (a small store shopping cart) yeah I am glad I didn’t get stopped but one time I did get stopped and checked for a ticket. Fortunately for me and another guy I told the officer that I thought it was going to be free near one of those free ride promotionals. Anyone caught without a ticket and a suitable ID usually go straight to booking for fingerprints.

  7. @lucindamichele: No, you don’t sound like an asshole. As Matt pointed out, you sound like one of the majority who have been so overwhelmed with the (not so) slow erosion of basic liberties that it just doesn’t feel like it’s worth the effort. I get that. “They” have gotten us so used to accepting these searches that when someone wants to look in our bag, we just try to get through it with a minimum of fuss and get on with our day. I am reminded of the frog in the pot of water. Drop a frog into a pot of boiling water and he’ll hop right out. Put him in a pot of cool water with a low flame underneath, and he’ll just sit there in the slowly heating water until he’s boiled.

    @flapperdew: Keep your cool. If you get excited during your explanation of what’s in your bag and your voice raises even a little bit, you’ll be marked as combative and detained for extended questioning faster than you would’ve believed possible.

    @Matt Mason: I’m on my way to read the Rosenthal piece now. Bruce Schnier writes a lot about security theater, too. Nothing makes me more angry than to see intrusive “security measures” put in place that don’t make anyone more secure.

    @rocketdyke: That’s the thing, isn’t it? The bag checks don’t make anyone safer, but if you refuse you don’t get to ride.

    @all: The follow up at LAist ( made an interesting point. The two hour operation this morning resulted in 1000 people screened or fare checked, and one arrest. The arrest was for something completely unrelated to train terrorism. LASD’s Sgt. Leo Bauer said, “Though we may be looking for one type of criminal element, we have a tendency to find something else.” So, is this really about keeping us safer on trains, or maybe it’s an excuse to cast a wide net and fish for whatever comes up without having to deal with pesky investigations or warrants.

    Finally, I had thought to fold in my hatred for showing my receipt (which I always refuse to do,) but I’ve got a whole separate rant for that. Just wait ’til the next time I have to shop at Fry’s…

  8. Relax.. I kid about becoming dangerous. The entire ‘casting a wider net’ thing is really the issue here and I am tired of the criminalization of everyday citizens. Plumb tired.

  9. philpalm-

    so a large bag means there might be a bomb in it?

    bombs can only fit in large bags, not small ones? i did not know that

  10. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


  11. I’ll be in the minority here. At the airports and stuff I don’t mind basic security like xrays. I probably wouldn’t even care if they had one at the metro station, for as often as I have use for it. I’m pretty non-plused by the whole thing.

  12. discarted:
    At least I would report any large bag left in the Metro station….
    Of course when the guy looks suspicious and had to wheel in a large package/bag I was very nervous…

  13. I personally don’t have a problem with the searches. I just got back from NYC, same thing happens there. It’s not an issue and nobody bitches about it.

    I lived in NYC before, during and after 9/11, so maybe I have a different perspective. Yet another thing for LA to learn from NYC, because, you know, NYC was attacked. Be thankful it hasn’t happen here.

  14. philpalm

    meanwhile the person standing next to you is wearing a bomb vest under his jacket but you’re focused on the homeless man with a large bag. it’s senseless. you’re profiling bags!

    americans are simply allowing the government to use phrases such as “the war on terrorism”, xenophobia, and the public’s fears as a tool to trample on your rights, and some people are okay with that. and it’s just another example of naomi klein’s shock doctrine at work

    what if law enforcement showed up at your house one day, saying, “Time for your random search. We’re looking for bombs. We need to protect the neighborhood. It’s legal because we’re searching every other house, not just picking and choosing.” will that be okay with you?

    how come we weren’t forced to go through ten years of body cavity searches after the Oklahoma city bombing?

    and the last time i checked it was LAPD attacking and shooting people in macarthur park…not al quaeda

  15. Chal – the reason nobody in NYC bitches about bag searches is because the terrorists made New Yorkers their bitches on 9/11, and they’ve been bent over and taking a secondary reaming from our own government ever since.

  16. @philpalm: a.) don’t let your paranoia get the best of you. As discarted pointed out, the level of your concern shouldn’t necessarily be tied to the size of the parcel. b.) The episode you describe in your brush with the law on the Metro was totally appropriate. You were on the train without a ticket. People who ride without a ticket should face consequences. I wish we had a better system than random fare checks (which I think leads to profiling,) but either way, no ticket=”straight to booking for fingerprints.”

    @frazgo: Honestly, I thought I would be in the minority on this one. I know we have to have some security. I might even be okay with airport-style security on the Metro (if it would work; it wouldn’t.) Random bag checks are pretty intrusive and completely ineffective for their stated purpose. I ride the Metro only a few times a year, but even one time is a useless abridging of my rights for little or no security gain.

    @chal: I understand why NYC residents from around 9/11/01 might have a different perspective, but they shouldn’t. The 9/11 hijackers went through airport security. It didn’t stop them. Neither would’ve a random bag check on the subway. Not being an issue and not bitching about it is what allows the slow erosion of our rights. Now it’s bag checks in the name of security. And warrant-less wiretapping. What’s next? See the story about the frog above.

    @marshall: While you may have a valid point, it is probably more effectively made with a more civil tone. Aggressive language like yours will make others in the discussion focus on that language, rather than the point you’re using it to make.

  17. @burns: thanks for telling me and NYC what we should think. i think you’re overreacting.

  18. @chal: My intention wasn’t to tell you or anyone else how they should think or feel. I wasn’t there, and I don’t presume to know how I would’ve reacted. Looking back at what I wrote, I can see how it can be read that way, and I apologize for any misunderstanding.

    I firmly believe, though, that there has got to be a better way to secure our people and property, while still maintaining the essential rights that are the basis of our society. I may not have the answer, but I know that we can’t protect our freedoms from the enemy by allowing our own government to put them away for safe-keeping.

  19. lucindamichele wrote:

    I sound like such an asshole.

    I sincerely hope that I don’t sound like a bigger asshole when I say that yes, that’s exactly what you sound like. I can at least spare some grudging respect for the frazgos of the world who will just come out and say that they don’t have a problem with random searches. As callous and fundamentally un-American as their attitude is, at least they own it and live by it.

  20. Burns! you’re singing my tune. What we defend against, we make real. I don’t think public policy should be motivated by fear, and I don’t think we need to regard the Bill of Rights as a short-sighted mistake. When I can take a big bottle of shampoo on the plane I’ll know our heads are beginning to pop back out of the nasty place we’ve put them.

  21. @percival: What exactly am I not “owning”? I think I’m pretty frank in that comment up there. Do you think I’m lying about ideologically opposing the searching? Is it mutually exclusive to ideologically oppose the searching, yet not take any action? IMO, silence does not equal consent.

    Your comment makes no sense. Would you prefer me “callous and un-American”?

  22. @burns: until that “better way” is defined, we’re kinda stuck with searches. would some sort of screening machine that could tell what type of underwear you were wearing (if any) be a better way or an invasion of privacy? and as much as i hate to quote ann coulter, privacy is not mentioned in the constitution.

    it is mentioned in the bill of rights. however, it doesn’t describe “unreasonable,” pertaining to searches. so if i’m in the subway and a cop asks to search my kicky Jack Spade manpurse, i would think, “hmm, i seem to recall people setting off bombs in public settings like subways, so this seems reasonable to me and i don’t feel like my essential rights are being violated as a result. thank god i’m not carrying my bong.”

    abuse of power is a concern, but then again, isn’t it an american value at this point? anyway, i find all of this moot now, with president wonderful in charge.

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