“It’s just a random check. We’re not going to profile people.” That’s how New York City Mayor Eric Adams tried to ease the concerns of those who’d just heard his latest plan for fighting the plague of violent crime in Gotham. As part of his comprehensive Blueprint for Ending Gun Violence, Hizzoner is going to have Port Authority police begin random luggage checks of bus passengers coming into the city.
This is the same city that shut down its Street Crimes Unit of the NYPD over civil liberties concerns surrounding the “stop-and-frisk” searches and arrests they made. Mayor Adams, who has since reinstated the Street Crime Unit, isn’t worried at all about targeting mostly poor and minority travelers, though, because, as he says, “The bus terminal is one of the biggest ways to transport guns here.”
From Gothamist . . .
The approach raises legal and civil liberties concerns, given the racist history of stop-and-frisk policing, and criminologists aren’t sure that it will be effective. But researchers say at least some guns are transported in small quantities via buses, and the searches could act as a deterrent to traffickers.
OK then. As long as “at least some guns” are coming in that way, let’s go for it!
News of the city’s new Roust the Po Folks strategy for going after illegal guns was enough to actually get the attention of a seldom-heard-from organization that was once known for defending constitutional rights, even those of people with whom they disagreed politically.
“Random” searches are anything but random. They raise major constitutional alarms and are plagued with racial bias.
— NYCLU (@NYCLU) February 14, 2022
This, of course, is the same branch of the ACLU that argued just a few months ago that carrying firearms not only inhibits free speech, but threatens our democracy.
Whether carried openly or concealed, weapons in public places present safety risks that can inhibit the full exercise of First Amendment rights. Where states have adopted more permissive public carry laws, there have been recent examples of guns interfering with free speech, free assembly, and even the democratic process itself.
Pro tip for New Yorkers: don’t depend on the NYCLU to protect your civil liberties.
As for justification for targeting bus passengers over, say, car or rail passengers . . .
Criminologists who study gun trafficking say there’s a lot they don’t know about how guns get into the city. But law enforcement officers have arrested several people using buses to import illegal guns. Last month, a 20-year-old man from Georgia was arrested by Port Authority police at the bus terminal in Midtown with a loaded Cobra .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol, according to the Daily News. A gun-sniffing dog identified the weapon during a search of the bus after it pulled into the station.
“Several.” Sounds like New York’s Finest are about to take a real bite outta crime. Let’s see what the federal gun regulatory agency thinks about the plan.
Daryl McCormick, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said he couldn’t provide the number of firearms transported on buses, but there was a definite increase in the flow of guns into New York City from out of state last year. He said the agency is involved in interdiction operations that use K9 dogs to sniff out weapons in baggage at bus terminals, and that there are ongoing investigations into interstate firearms trafficking.
“We have had cases and have received information from numerous sources about firearms traffickers using buses as the means to transport firearms from southern states to NYC,” he said, and the ATF “will support our partners in ‘spot checks’ in a manner that is consistent with constitutional protections and in a manner that is least intrusive.”
It’s comforting to know that our friends at ATF keep Americans’ civil liberties in mind in everything they do. Still, we can’t help but note that no one seems to have anything more than anecdotal reports of guns bring brought into New York City through bus terminals.
[Criminologist Rod Brunson] applauded the mayor acknowledging the potential pitfalls of racial profiling when conducting random checks. “Particularly given the history of policing in New York City, I was happy to see there was some recognition that this needs to be done with evidence-based orientation — but also not done in the most heavy-handed way to further disrupt or undermine police-community relations,” he said.
Probable cause doesn’t appear to be one of those “evidence-based orientations” that Port Authority Police will be employing in implementing their new program. Oh well.