Earlier this year, Aaron Heuser of Eugene, Oregon, had to travel to Washington, D.C. The trip had two purposes: The 37-year-old mathematician was officially leaving his job at National Institutes of Health and starting a new position at a private firm. Since he is terrified of flying he booked himself a sleeper car on Amtrak. Upon reaching Reno, Nevada, there was an unexpected knock at his door. “There was a DEA badge on the window,” he said. “Having a good reason to be making this trip and being a law abiding citizen, I opened the door and politely asked if there was a problem. The officer asked if I was Aaron Heuser, and then asked to see my ticket. He then told me that there were many red flags on my trip, mainly that I had a sleeper car, was traveling alone, and did not check my luggage.”
A sleeper car is a main Amtrak product! Plenty of people travel alone! Why would anyone with a whole sleeper-car compartment to themselves go through the hassle of checking luggage?
Yet the harassment isn’t surprising.
For decades, law enforcement has tried to intercept drug couriers on Amtrak trains. These efforts have utterly failed to stop the easy availability of marijuana, cocaine, and other narcotics. Meanwhile they’ve violated the rights of countless Americans. Earlier this week, I highlighted the story of Joseph Rivers, a 22-year old black man who left his hometown in hopes of becoming a music-video producer. En route to L.A., the DEA boarded his Amtrak and seized his life savings, $16,000 in cash, even though there was apparently no evidence he’d committed a crime or possessed any drugs.