In New York, a Debate over Racial Profiling for Possible Terrorists

NEW YORK -- Arabs should be targeted for searches on city subways, two New York elected officials said, contending that the police department has been wasting time with random checks in its effort to prevent a terrorist attack in the transit system.

The city began random searches of passengers' bags on subways and buses after the second bomb attack in London on July 21. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said repeatedly that racial profiling will not be used in deciding whose bags to search.

But over the weekend, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind said police should be focusing on those who fit the "terrorist profile."

"They all look a certain way," said Hikind, a Democrat who represents a predominantly Orthodox Jewish district in Brooklyn. "It's all very nice to be politically correct here, but we're talking about terrorism."

And on Tuesday, City Councilman James Oddo, a Republican from Staten Island, said that his emotions relating to the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack by Middle Eastern men in hijacked airplanes caused him to publicly declare his support for Hikind's statements.

"The reality is that there is a group of people who want to kill us and destroy our way of life," he said. "Young Arab fundamentalists are the individuals undertaking these acts of terror, and we should keep those facts prominently in our minds and eyes as we attempt to secure our populace."

Oddo commended Hikind for "rushing headlong against the strong undertow of political correctness."

Hikind said he planned to introduce legislation allowing police to racially profile, and Oddo said he intended to introduce a resolution in the City Council supporting the measure.

But the director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Wissam Nasr, said their push for racial profiling is offensive and ignorant because "terror comes in all shapes and sizes, and certainly there's no legislation or system that's going to identify terrorists on the spot."

In response to Hikind's suggestion, the New York Police Department said in a statement that racial profiling is "illegal, of doubtful effectiveness and against department policy."

Bloomberg reiterated Tuesday that racial profiling is against the law and doesn't work.

"I'm against it for fairness reasons, and we're not going to do it," he said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union opposes the searches, saying they violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protecting people against "unreasonable searches and seizures." The mayor said he hoped the NYCLU would recognize that the city has struck the right balance between security and protecting constitutional rights.