Remarks by WMATA board member Peter Benjamin on MTPD random bag searches

2/10/2011 WMATA board meeting

I am a long term member of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Many of my friends consider me a civil liberties nut.  It is exceptionally important to me for us to respect in every possible way the rights that we have as citizens of this country because that's what makes this country what it is.  It is extremely important for all of us to protect those rights, because that's why we are the great country that we are.  And I personally feel that bag checks are a violation of those rights, and it is the beginning of a process that moves towards us having fewer and fewer and fewer of those rights.  

And if this decision were only for me, and only about me, I would say I personally am willing to take the risk of potentially having somebody get into the system and blow something up and I would be one of the victims, and I would balance that against my rights and say my rights are much more important.  I would do that in the context that I truly believe that although this technique is valuable, it probably is not as valuable as I would like it to be relative to my rights.  

However, I'm also a member of this board, and I was sworn to protect the safety and the security of the people who ride our system.  And I don't know how I as an individual with good conscience could allow somebody to get into our system and cause an explosion and know that somehow or another I contributed to that by overruling the best judgments of our chief executive officer and the professionals who understand this process.  

And so I have an ethical and moral dilemma.  If I were the only person riding I know what I would do.  But I'm not the only person riding. I am required to think about all those other people who haven't told us where they are.  

Yes we had a hearing, both Ms. Hynes and I went, which our Riders Advisory Council held.  And the position was overwhelmingly "don't do this now." And we have a finding from our Riders Advisory Council towards us - two statements that they've made that say "don't do this now." But I don't know that I can be in a position of saying that I have got the ability, given the responsibility that is given to me as an individual and as a member of this board to protect our riders, to say that they should take the same risk that perhaps I would be willing to take.

And as long as I have to carry out that responsibility, I think I need to defer to those who believe that they understand better this issue. It's one that I do very reluctantly, but it's one that I do after very, very careful thought.  And I think that's the balance that each of needs to make as we consider this issue.

Additional materials:

[video, discussion]

[transcribed by Thomas Nephew]

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[All 1/27 statements:
 Porter, Wells, Downey, Hynes, Hewlett, McKay]