The signage at the "Transit Watch" checkpoint claims that all persons will be stopped and searched and that declining a search will result in an order to leave the station. If you fail to comply with the order, the police will arrest you and charge you with trespassing. A trespassing conviction could result in a $100 fine and up to 30 days in jail. It is unclear how the trespassing law would apply given that the area is public property and that it is not a crime to exercise your Fourth Amendment rights.
I recorded two videos of the checkpoint and made a warning sign so that unsuspecting travelers would not be caught off guard by the police. The signage the police set up was not viewable until an you arrived at the checkpoint.
Two transit officers threatened to arbitrarily misapply a law when they told me that I couldn't block the entrance to the Chinatown stop. My video clearly shows that I was standing on the public sidewalk next to the entrance and not blocking it. The arbitrariness of the threat was highlighted by the fact that the officers actually walked around a man standing directly in the middle of the entrance to deliver the threat. The officers did not make a similar warning to the man.
The threat was also hypocritical considering that the officers were stopping people who attempted to enter the subway, which is the exactly what they threatened to punish me for supposedly doing. The hypocrisy deepened when I was later threatened with “loitering” charges by a group of transit police who were standing around in the station.
The loitering threat was issued after a transit officer invited me down to the checkpoint to have a conversation. The officer claimed I was going to “look dumb” when I asked if the officers had warrants to search bags.
These “Transit Watch” checkpoints are the similar to TSA checkpoints run in the Boston subways last year. The TSA checkpoints were challenged by local activists under the banner of Defend the 4th. Defend the 4th’s Garret Kirkland was with me at the MBTA checkpoint and he announced that he will organize fresh protests over the MBTA checkpoints.
On April 2, I called the MBTA to find out how many of these inspections the MBTA has conducted since the “Transit Watch” program was started, how many of these inspections have resulted in arrests or citations being issued, and how many of these arrests were for terrorism-related charges or explosives-related charges.
After being transferred to several different people who said they couldn't comment, I was finally told to ask my questions by email. The MBTA has not yet responded to my email.
Correction (same day as original post:) This article originally said a trespassing charge could result in a $120 fine. It was been corrected to say a trespassing charge could result in a $100 fine and up to 30 days in jail.