Will Strip Searches Stop Terrorism and Save America?

Anthony Freda Illustration

Scott Morgan
Flex Your Rights

I’m not sure I remember the last time I read anything as utterly cringe-inducing as this New York Times report on the Supreme court’s new decision allowing strip searches of absolutely anyone who gets arrested and taken to jail for any reason. There are at least a half-dozen different passages in this thing that make me wanna tear clumps of hair out of my head.

Bear with me if you dare to behold the perverted madness of the most esteemed judges in the nation.

“Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” Justice Kennedy wrote, adding that about 13 million people are admitted each year to the nation’s jails.

This right here is where the problem begins: the jailing of a jaw-dropping 13 million people every year, all of whom have to be stripped naked for their own safety, of course.

A nun was strip-searched, he wrote, after an arrest for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration.

Awesome. Yeah, nothing promotes public safety like strip-searching a pacifist nun.

Justice Kennedy responded that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.”

But not usually, though. More often they turn out to be…minor offenders, guilty only of whatever minor thing they were arrested for, if they even did that. And what the hell does strip-searching have to do with it anyway? Since when is the difference between a jaywalker and a serial killer determined by looking in somebody’s butt?

He noted that Timothy McVeigh, later put to death for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was first arrested for driving without a license plate.

But they didn’t find fifty pounds of fertilizer in his underpants, did they? Seriously, what on earth does Timothy frickin’ McVeigh have to do with this?

“One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” Justice Kennedy added.

Again, what are you talking about? Did he have the 9/11 attacks hidden in his ass? This is all just a bunch of insulting irrelevant nonsense that has nothing whatsoever to do with the question of whether we should strip search people for frivolous shit like breaking traffic laws.

Justice Breyer wrote that there was very little empirical support for the idea that strip-searches detect contraband that would not have been found had jail officials used less intrusive means, particularly if strip-searches were allowed when officials had a reasonable suspicion that they would find something.

A valiant effort from Breyer, but it is apparently a waste of time to demand evidence of an actual public safety purpose to be served by searching the junk of 13 million people every year, or to suggest that one needs to have “reasonable suspicion” of any particular threat before poking around down there. Keep in mind that the only thing all these people have in common is that a cop somewhere decided to arrest them for something.

In a concurrence, Chief Justice Roberts, quoting from an earlier decision, said that exceptions to Monday’s ruling were still possible “to ensure that we ‘not embarrass the future.’ ”

I’ve never heard the phrase “embarrass the future” before, but I can’t think of a better time and place to introduce such a concept. It’s as if somewhere deep in the subconscious mind of the Chief Justice, a little voice is screaming that this is all completely sick, embarrassing, and insane.

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