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Occupy Offshoot to Protest T Bag Checks

Defend the 4th, an offshoot of Occupy Boston, plans to stage a protest against random bag checks on the subway in February.

A pro-Fourth Amendment coalition with roots in the Occupy movement will stage a protest of random bag inspections at T platforms around the city this weekend.

Defend the 4th, a self-proclaimed “group of individuals from a broad array of political/social leanings and organizations,” plans to demonstrate across Boston on Feb. 2, according to an email to Patch from coalition spokesman Garret Kirkland.

“Any instances of ‘random’ searches being conducted on a citizen or visitor to the Commonwealth warrants protest on Fourth Amendment grounds," Kirkland wrote. “We believe that it is a gross violation of our rights and of the principles of our nation, that any person should have to prove that they are not doing anything wrong.”

Defend the 4th plans to march from noon to 3 p.m. on Feb. 2, along several branches of the T, according to a flyer. Groups will begin at Harvard Square, South Station, Lechmere, Kenmore and Ruggles T stops.

The MBTA randomly inspects passenger’s bags but does not search, according to Kelly Smith, deputy press secretary for the MBTA.

“These random, non-intrusive inspections take place every week at various stations,” Smith wrote in an email to Patch.

In 2006, then Gov. Mitt Romney directed the MBTA to perform random bag inspections for explosive materials, resurrecting the practice that started at the Boston Democratic National Convention in 2004.

"Passengers are selected on a random basis through the use of a computer-generated sequence of numbers," according to an informational post on the inspections on the MBTA's website. "These inspections involve the brushing, with a swab, of the exterior of a carry-on. This swab is then placed in explosive trace detection equipment." 

In August 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York upheld a decision that bag inspections on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority do not violate an individual's Constitutional rights, according to an MBTA press release from October 2006. Following the London subway bombings in July 2005, New York had instituted a policy that was based on the MBTA's random bag inspection program used during the DNC.

Two court cases—American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, 2004 and MacWade v. Kelly, 2006—upheld the inspections, according to the MBTA.

“It’s not searches, it’s swabs,” Smith said. “They don’t even go inside your bag.”

Smith added that passengers can decline the swabs, but they then forfeit their right to ride on the MBTA.

Still, Kirkland asserts that Defend the 4th feels all such inspections along the MBTA—and the MBTA’s coordination with TSA, which performs the inspections—are at least inappropriate and possibly illegal.

“We find these invasions of our privacy to be unjustified, unwarranted, and anti-Constitutional,” he said in an email.

Matthew January 30, 2013 at 01:41 AM
How the courts found this flagrant violation of our privacy "constitutional" is beyond. It's just another case of law enforcement harassing law abiding citizens instead of going after real criminals. People bave the right to resist this.
Joseph January 30, 2013 at 01:26 PM
Are the grounds on which the MBTA are located considered "private" property? I agree, this is another example of the government harassing law abiding citizens, but at the same time, if this is "private" property, can we really argue against them looking for bombs? As I type this, I wonder if this means they'll start considering the sidewalk property of the city? I see the can of worms opening. Mumbles says the Boston economy is back to where it was before the Great Recession. Still milking mommy and daddy's bank accounts are you? Occupy a job for Christ sake!
Matthew January 31, 2013 at 12:10 AM
My bag is private property. I guess an argument could be made that we have to put up with random, invasive searches in airports, but it's important to keep things in conext. We tolerate a certain amount of harassment at airports, yes. However, no law enforecement official, while I'm coming and going on public transit, or walking down the street going from point "a" to point "b", should be able to touch my personal property or detain me in any way with out probable cause that can be articulated. The notion that "if you're not hiding anything them what's the big deal" that I've heard in the past holds no water with me. P.S. While some might think that I am overly critical of law enforcement, I've been working for a federal agency for almost a decade and a half. I understand the pressures on LE officials, but the rights of the people come first.

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