Back in 2003, during one of those code-yellow terrorist alerts, I was doing interviews near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington when an anonymous tourist reported me to the U.S. Park Police.
I was detained as a "suspicious person" and my notebook confiscated.
Asked why, one of the officers replied, "We hear you've been asking curious questions."
Later I learned that the tourist also thought I looked a lot like Saddam Hussein.
And that's all it took. Say goodbye to Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
In the years since, that same police tactic, known as "stop and frisk," has become one of the most used - and abused - methods of operation in the war on drugs.
Are you worried about the National Security Agency waging a war on terror by going through your telephone logs? Try getting bent over the hood of your car and having police go through your pockets.
In New York City, where a lawsuit challenging "stop and frisk" is being heard in federal court, an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union found that "innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics."
In a city of 8 million people, that is equal to half the population.
Sure, some guns and drugs have been confiscated. But the jury is out on whether the practice has, in fact, caused a drop in homicides. It could just as easily be that gunshot victims are being saved because of better-equipped emergency medical vehicles and highly skilled medical technicians.
Meanwhile, the very fabric of society is being frayed by racially targeted policing.
"African Americans do not fear traffic tickets but the all-too frequent investigatory stops and the degrading and intrusive police actions that accompany these stops," said Donald Haider-Markel, a political scientist at the University of Kansas.
He and fellow researchers Charles Epps and Steven Maynard-Moody have written a soon-to-be-published book about the consequences of black motorists' encounters with police in Kansas City metro area.
"Persistent questions by police about where the driver lives or why he or she is in the area, handcuffing, police searches, being ordered to stand at the front of one's vehicle as drivers pass and gawk - these fears shape where African Americans feel free to drive, what they feel free to wear and, ultimately, African Americans' sense of their status in American society," Haider-Markel said.
"Police stops thus contribute directly to the enduring racial dividing line in American society."