By Arthur Delaney - 09/20/06 12:00 AM EDT
New York City police have been randomly checking people’s bags on the subway since the suicide bombing on the London subway last summer. Washington’s Metro has stepped up security, with increased patrols, constant “be alert” announcements over the loudspeaker, and surveillance cameras in trains — not to mention the advertisements that are made-up dictionary entries, like “Sumpnspicious: unattended package or odd, unusual behavior that is reported to a bus driver, train operator (via intercom at end of rail car), station manager or Metro Police.”
This is the Metro’s refreshing version of bag checks — a really goofy made-up word.
But on Sept. 12, The Washington Examiner ran a screaming front-page headline: “Metro police chief wants bag searches.”
Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says that is wrong. She says Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson isn’t pushing for bag searches, which would be a decision entirely up to the Metro’s board of directors. The chief would be ready and willing to implement a bag search program only if the board wanted it.
“The picture that has been painted is that the chief is pushing for this and the board won’t commit, and that is just not an accurate picture,” says Gladys Mack, chairwoman of Metro’s board. Near the beginning of the year, Mack says, the board discussed bag searches and reached a consensus that it was not time for such a program.
(A week after the London bombings last year, Hanson is quoted in a front-page Washington Post story as saying, “It’s something I very much want to do,” in reference to random bag inspections.)
Jim Graham, a member of both the Metro board and the D.C. City Council, says random searches would slow down the subway system and probably wouldn’t even work. He says that when he voiced his concerns about congestion to Metro police officials, they said they wouldn’t perform the checks at rush hour. How reassuring.
Mack is confident that Metro is already doing a good job on security. Besides the publicized security measures, which include those terrorist-confounding bombproof trashcans, “We’ve had other techniques we don’t announce to the public,” Mack says, adding, “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”
Random searching is not unheard of in the District. In 2004 the U.S. Capitol Police set up vehicle checkpoints on roads around the Capitol and issued a press release instructing motorists to be prepared to open their trunks for inspection.
Art Spitzer, legal director of the local American Civil Liberties Union, applauds the Metro board for deciding against the bag checks. (The national ACLU is suing over the checks in New York.)
“It’s a massive inconvenience to thousands of people,” Spitzer says, “and it wouldn’t stop a terrorist if he had an IQ above 93.”
You can’t teach civics in Washington, D.C. the way they teach it anywhere else in the country. “Civics” is the branch of political science that deals with the rights and duties of citizens. In D.C. we have all the same duties as everybody else, but we come up short on rights; while most students in this country learn about their senators, D.C. students learn that they don’t have any.
Now a handful of D.C. public school teachers are driving that point home with force.
In one of her D.C. history lessons at Bell Multicultural Senior High School last year, one such teacher, Nida Sahr, had a class of ninth-graders take a mock vote on implementing a voucher program that would give students the option of going to private or parochial schools. (This issue itself highlights D.C.’s lack of home rule, as Congress has unilaterally made us into an “experiment” on vouchers.) Before the mock vote, Sahr placed either a red or blue marker on each student’s desk, and then, based on marker color, she arbitrarily tore up half the students’ ballots after they had been cast.
“The students got very upset,” Sahr says. One of her homework assignments would be to tell five other people of the District’s lack of congressional representation.
“If change is going to occur, it has to occur in D.C.,” says Sahr, who now teaches at H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Northeast after teaching at Bell last year. “District students are the most important stakeholders” on this issue, she says.
Sahr developed her lesson plan in collaboration with D.C. Vote, a nonprofit group dedicated to securing full congressional representation (with voting representatives and everything) for the citizens of the District. D.C. Vote has put a lesson plan for teachers on its website, complete with talking points, worksheets, and quizzes with true-or-false questions such as this: “Americans can have their civil rights denied depending on where in the United States they live.” Answer: True!
In civics classes generally, “You’re trying to teach young people to be civic-minded,” says D.C. Vote’s Katie Reardon. “As they turn 18, to expect them to run to the polls and vote for someone who can’t vote for them [in Congress] is a little ridiculous,” she says.
‘Nothing short of an outrage’
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution took up a bill by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) last Thursday that would give D.C. a voting representative in Congress. D.C. Vote, which has worked for so long to make this happen, took it as a victory that important people agree that more than a half-million American citizens should have proper representation.
“Everyone in the room agreed that this is a problem that needs to be solved,” says D.C. Vote spokesman Kevin Kiger.
The voices variously called the situation “a disgrace,” “a blot on our nation,” and “an abomination.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley called our disenfranchisement “nothing short of an outrage.” Then he said he hated to be like the guy who objects to a marriage during the ceremony, but he had to pooh-pooh the bill’s constitutionality.
The bill creating D.C. vote-representation would also establish an at-large House seat in Utah, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who heads the Judiciary Committee, is worried that will give Utahans too much representation. This is a problem.
The only reason anyone thinks the bill has a shot is that it’s a political compromise; it gives D.C. representation but balances our Democratic voice with an at-large seat in Utah that would surely go to a Republican.
I would hate to be like the guy who says embarrassing things about the newlyweds during a drunken toast at the reception, but even if this bill passes, we’ll still be short a couple senators.
All’s Wells in Ward 6 primary
Tommy Wells soundly defeated his opponents in the Ward 6 Democratic primary, paving the way for what will likely be an easy victory against two oddball opponents in the November election. Wells won 67 percent of the vote. Curtis Etherly and Leo Pinson won 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The school board member and former child-protection social worker’s campaign for a “livable and walkable community” resonated with Ward 6.
Wells’ opponents in the general election: Will Cobb, the plucky independent who missed the deadline for submitting nominating petitions for the Democratic primary; and Tony Williams, the Republican with the unusual name.