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50 protest MBTA search policy

(The following article by Martha Bartle was posted on the Boston Globe website on August 24.)

BOSTON -- Nearly 50 people, including organizers from the T Riders Union, rallied at Downtown Crossing yesterday to continue railing against the MBTA's bag-screening policy, which they contend violates the Fourth Amendment and subjects passengers to racial profiling.

Protesters rallied around 17-year-old Fitchburg High School student Hala Saddeh, who says she was pulled off a commuter rail train during last month's Democratic National Convention while on her way to class at Tufts University, because she was wearing a head scarf, a common practice for Muslim women.

"The T says the searches are being halted," said Lee Matsueda, an organizer with the T Riders Union, "but the policy still exists. They said they have no intentions of getting rid of it, so we want to maintain our opposition."

Saddeh was one of about a dozen people searched last month who filed complaints with the American Civil Liberties Union, Matsueda said. Organizers from the ACLU, the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee of Massachusetts, and the American Friends Service Committee also participated in the afternoon rally at Winter and Summer streets.

The organizations are pushing the MBTA to inform the public of the findings of an internal report that will evaluate the success of the bag-search policy during the Democratic National Convention.

MBTA spokesman Joseph Pesaturo acknowledged that the transit agency is evaluating how the policy worked, but could not say when the report would be completed.

"We'll go as long as it takes to get a proper report," he said, stressing that the decision to release the findings will be "up to the police chief and the general manager."

Bag searches were implemented during the convention in response to warnings from homeland security officials that terrorists were planning to attack transit systems to disrupt the political gathering.

"The main request is that they give folks a real response as to what the status of the searches is, and what's going to happen with the policy in the future," Matsueda said in a phone interview yesterday.

"They need to get information back to the public about how the searches went. They say it was a success, but we think it's important to report back and let people know what their findings were."

For security reasons, the MBTA will not comment on where or when inspections of bags are taking place, or if they are taking place at all.

In July, MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern said that "baggage inspections will play a role in security at the MBTA in the future," but "to what extent is the open question."

Matsueda said yesterday that such searches will lead to racial profiling and influence the public's perception of Arabs.

"It's been an inconvenience for people," he said, "and in [Saddeh's] case, she just thought it was wrong. She's surprised and doesn't know what to think."

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

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