NEW YORK — Abraham Lincoln noted that “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present.” With terrorists blowing up trains, buses and the tallest building in the United States, you don’t need Abraham Lincoln to tell you that things cannot remain “business as usual.” You don’t need Abraham Lincoln to tell you that lawyers would better serve humanity if they continued to chase their secretaries around their desks rather than meddle in the affairs of the real world, attempting to apply antiquated notions of what is legal and proper to today’s chaotic and dangerous world.
New York City’s Police Commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, has sensibly started having police inspect parcels and the backpacks of New York subway riders. His is no idle concern since trains in Moscow, Madrid, and London have already been blown up by terrorists. We have learned that subway and tunnel bombs are particularly heinous because they create a constricted area wherein the explosions do their deadly damage.
Predictably, the lawyers have come to the aid of the would-be terrorists. As we speak, outraged lawyers are sharpening their pencils and have come out of the woodwork, setting themselves up to challenge the Police Department’s actions.
Donna Liebermann, the executive director of the New York City Civil Liberties Union, has already begun work on a federal lawsuit to inhibit the police. Like the sea gulls that pounce on garbage from the tugboats in New York harbor, there will certainly be many other lawyers assaulting rationality with lawsuits seeking the same relief.
Surely common sense has fled the field of battle. If these package searches are able to save only one person’s life, they will all be worthwhile. Terrorists feed on lack of defensive preparedness and the absence of police. If a terrorist had to choose between a soft target that was unguarded, and one with a heavy police presence and, additionally, subjecting the potential terrorist to search, he or she would certainly choose the unprotected target. Terrorists may be crazy, demonic, and filled with hate, but they are not stupid.
The possibility that a search may reveal drugs or illegal weapons is a plus — not a minus. People shouldn’t be walking around our city in possession of illegal guns, drugs, etc., bringing them from one part of town to another. Being aware of the risks to their delivery system by entering highly guarded venues, they probably would have the common sense not to ride the subway — which would create a safer environment not only for the riders but, perhaps, for New Yorkers in general. This, of course, leads to another conclusion.
There is no law, body of law, or constitutional authority that gives anyone the right to ride the subway. There is no body of law or constitutional authority mandating that a municipality is required to provide a subway system. It is offered to the public, and if members of the public feel that availing itself of such transportation is not in their interest, particularly since they might be searched, they are perfectly free to walk — preferably away from the City.
Superimposed upon all of this is the nonsense about racial profiling. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that the bombers in the past have not been blond-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian transsexuals wearing snowshoes. Virtually all of the bombings have been perpetrated by certain groups of people coming from one particular part of the world. It would make no sense to deny our police the right to husband their resources and direct it toward those most likely perpetrators rather than have to waste their time — and risk our safety — searching little old ladies. We have the best police force in the world. Many of the police officers are members of minorities themselves, and, as a matter of fact, in the last graduation of police officers, the minority was the majority of the new recruits. The police know the profiles of potential bombers and they should be allowed to do their job. This is not a case of profiling people because of their ethnicity, or harassing them, or denigrating them simply because of their race or ethnicity. This is simply a sensible protective action that logically can be most effective when directed towards the certain known groups of people most likely to commit the crime.
All of this is not to suggest that there will come a time, hopefully sooner rather than later, that none of this will be necessary, but in the interim, let us err — if err it is — on the side of saving lives.
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