“Well, of course he did,” you said to yourself as you read the headline of this piece. After all, Rev. Al Sharpton is never far from a controversy that might involve race. But Sharpton raised a valid concern during his remarks to reporters Wednesday after meeting with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to, he said, “express concerns that have been coming to us” about racial profiling during the random bag searches on buses, subways and commuter trains.
“We’re concerned with what happens when school opens and we have hundreds of thousands of students, all of whom have backpacks,” Sharpton said, adding that cops interacting with throngs of kids might not produce great results. Sharpton told the press that Kelly acknowledged the approaching school year was a worry, and pledged that cops would be trained over the next 30 days to deal with the crush of young riders.
Sharpton-haters will accuse the Rev of trying to stir up trouble where there isn’t any. But Al stressed that he was trying to avoid a problem by airing his worries before bad things happen. As for the searches so far, Sharpton said, “We’ve not gone to a pattern yet” in the 20 or so complaints that have reached him, mainly from Latinos who believe they were mistaken from African Americans. And, Sharpton added, Kelly was sensitive to the concerns the Rev raised—including the complaint that the selection of subway sites has focused disproportionately on neighborhoods of color, where even a random search will still target minorities more than whites.
True to form, Sharpton had his own take on the seeming shift in the balance between liberty and security. “Let me emphasize that all of us join . . . in wanting to see safety,” Sharpton said. “Some of us are even prepared to deal with some intrusion. But that intrusion should be fair and equitable.” A lot of pols have said they’re willing to give up some freedom to feel safe; Sharpton’s only caveat is that we all have to give it up in equal measure.