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Racial Equity

Thursday’s Headlines: Blank Checks Edition

The big news on Wednesday was a real restriction on freedom of movement in the supposed name of battling crime. Plus other news.

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The big news this week is a real restriction on freedom of movement in the name of supposedly battling crime.

First, on Tuesday, sort of out of the blue, Mayor Adams announced, "We are reinstituting bag checks" at subway stations (not that the NYPD ever stopped, but who's counting?). And then on Wednesday, Gov. Hochul said that she would deploy National Guard soldiers and State Police officers to check subway riders’ bags "in the city’s busiest stations" beginning this week.

Everyone covered Hochul's bombshell — NY Times, NYDN, NY Post, amNY (times two), Gothamist, Hell Gate, The City — but there was varying levels of interest in a main issue with random bag checks: equity.

Don't misunderstand us: We're not disputing the NYPD's constitutional right to conduct searches. And we're well aware that people routinely and without controversy surrender to a number of searches before getting on airplanes.

But here's the difference: Airport searches are not random or subject to whims or bias by the enforcement officers. If you want to fly, you accept that you'll have to take off your belt and shoes and go through the metal detector (and sometimes get patted down).

But that's not what's happening here; the regime that Mayor Adams and Gov. Hochul have in mind is "random" searches based, according to City Hall, on intelligence, threat assessments, and passenger volume. Or, as the mayor said on WPIX: "We're not profiling, [they're] random, based on the count, a number. And people who don't want their bag checks can turn around and not enter the system."

So if you don't consent to being searched — and some would argue that cops don't have the right to search you without a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime — you're unable to take the subway.

Worse, nothing is truly random. Human beings are flawed. And passenger volumes are high in some places, but lower in others. And "intelligence" is often a misnomer. There will be bias.

Just ask Jangir Sultan. Back in 2009, he sued the NYPD over its definition of "random" — he had been stopped in "random" searches 21 times! "Sultan's South Asian appearance is the only factor that can explain this persistent targeting by police officers," the NYCLU said at the time.

The city settled Sultan's suit, giving him cash, but not what he really wanted something: an admission that cops had racially profiled him. And he offered to forego the settlement if the NYPD would simply agree to monitor subway checkpoints to ensure racial profiling does not occur.

The city rejected that offer. I asked City Hall if anything has changed since those days, and was told only that random searches are constitutional (obvs!) and that there's no monitoring to determine if the NYPD searches are truly random.

Did anyone in the media refer to Jangir Sultan in yesterday's coverage of random searches? Nope. Oy, kids these days.

In other news:

  • Speaking of subway crime, the Times debunked the notion that there's a lot of it.
  • The Council gave amNY the handout on a bill to require cruise ships to plug into shore power. Let's see if the bill has teeth (prior efforts to clear the pier air have failed).
  • Like Streetsblog, amNY covered yesterday's hit-and-run fatality on deadly Canal Street.
  • Check out the pro-Palestinian ads on the subway. (Hell Gate)
  • Finally, we appreciated the AP's look at whether delivery workers are doing better now that the minimum wage is in effect. Results are, sadly, mixed.

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