Two recent articles about the Drug Enforcement Administration harassing Amtrak passengers have elicited like responses from a number of Atlantic readers. “Hey,” they’ve more or less written, “I’ve been harassed aboard Amtrak, too!”
The DEA is mentioned again in what follows, though other stories concern different law-enforcement organizations. The common theme is the harassment of innocent people without probable cause to think that they are doing anything illegal. As Brian Doherty noted at Reason, the gendarme bothering innocent travelers on trains was a stock trope of movies and books about malign European regimes. And now it is a regular feature of train travel in the United States of America.
An incident of harassment weighed on one reader for many years:
I am still very disturbed by an event much like yours that happened more than 2 decades ago. I still feel so violated, and was approached exactly the same way as others in your story. I had a sleeper car as I was going from Austin to Los Angeles. Mine happened in Arizona (don’t remember exactly where), but I was finally told (when I tried to repeatedly ask why I was being harassed) that I “matched a description” of a drug dealer. I was then a 30-something female, traveling alone, with luggage I had in my room because I had a room (duh). I was told that if I didn’t cooperate and let them search me, they would arrest me and take me off the train. I am still disgusted at myself that I let them.