Constitutional Rights in the Projects

A FEDERAL district court has thankfully put a stop to the practice of conducting warrantless searches for guns and drugs in Chicago's crime-ridden public housing projects.

There is no question that housing projects in Chicago have serious crime problems. Many residents don't feel safe, drugs are sometimes openly traded out of project apartments and, generally, crime is rampant....

But just because crime is a serious problem, and just because project tenants are either on welfare or have their rents subsidized, is no reason to deprive residents of rights that everyone else takes for granted. The apartment of a welfare recipient is no less that person's ``castle'' than a four bedroom colonial is the castle of a suburban dweller....

The Clinton administration's fall-back proposal does not appear much better. Instead of merely crashing in as it previously has done, now it would ``ask'' tenants to sign a contract agreeing to permit random searches.... This, said Attorney General Janet Reno, would likely pass constitutional muster....

We would hope there would be other ways to cut crime in housing projects, such as former congressman Jack Kemp's idea to evict troublemakers or to give policing powers to the tenants themselves.

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