- Kris Lotlikar
U.S Senators Dick Durbin and Carol Moseley-Braun are calling for the General Accounting Office to broaden its investigation of drug search procedures at the nation's busiest airport. The two Senators released figures stating that of the 104 strip searches conducted in 1997 at O'Hare international airport, 77 of those involved female suspects. "Our country should be conducting a war on drugs, not a war on women," Senator Moseley-Braun told Reuters. Senator Durbin also commented, "These searches are far more successful at stripping women of their dignity than stripping our nation of its drug supply." The Treasury Department, which has oversight authority over the Customs Service, is conducting its own internal investigation and stated that they would also support the GAO investigation.
The figures released also suggested a trend of racial discrimination in the strip searches. The data shows that almost twice as many black women were searched as white women. O'Hare airport officials deny the claims, stating they do not "target" a certain group of people. "It's never based solely on race, ethnic origin or gender," stated Cherise Miles, spokeswoman for Customs in Chicago to the Illinois Daily Herald. "It could be nervous behavior, it could be the way a person is dressed. It could be where they're coming from." Ed Fox, a Chicago attorney, has filed a lawsuit representing 18 black women subjected to searches in which illegal substances were not found. "I'm pretty confident many more black women were strip searched than what they're admitting to," he stated to the Herald. "They are clearly targeting black women for strip searches without reasonable suspicion. It's purely for harassment."
Effectiveness of the searches is also being questioned. Only 27 of the 104 strip searches turned up drugs. Drugs were found on 25% of the white women searched and only on 17% of the black women. Senator Dick Durbin commented, "It's very difficult to justify what they are doing based on their results." William Spain, spokesperson for the ACLU of Illinois, sees hope in the Senators' concern. He told The Week Online, "For far to long most of our lawmakers have only aided and abetted the worst excesses of America's unwinnable War on Drugs. It is encouraging that a few of them of finally waking up to the fact that so many innocent citizens are routinely stripped of their liberty and dignity as a result of destructive drug policies."