Sunday, May 9, 2010

Arizona, Missouri, Pennsylvania: A Cautionary Tale

Issues regarding the proper exercise of police powers, or lack thereof, are tearing at the fabric of our country. The issue of wrongful convictions is but one drop in a big melting pot that is now percolating.

Consider first the issue of the Arizona's recently enacted illegal immigration law. The people of Arizona have grown weary of the the serious crime they perceive as being perpetrated by illegal aliens. They therefore passed a law that, among other things, allows their law-enforcement authorities to demand papers from anyone they believe might be in this country illegally, assuming that person has been legally stopped, detained, or arrested. They claim the law will allow them to enforce, at the state level, federal laws already on the books but largely ignored.

At the most recent White House Correspondents' Dinner, President Obama took a shot at Arizona for their new law, and everyone had a good laugh. Everyone except those people who live in Arizona. Instead of laughing, they prepared the following video. It's short, but powerful. Give it a watch, then we'll continue speaking.

I'm sympathetic with those people in Arizona whose lives and safety are so seriously threatened. I also disapprove of this President's penchant to mock or vilify Americans who disagree with him. It is unworthy of the office he holds.

On the other hand, I despise the thought that (some) people in Arizona (depending upon what they look like) will be required to produce their "papers" on demand (even if they are citizens) or face detention. I have no doubt that serious abuses will follow.

It's time to consider the second video making the blogospheric rounds. This one is from Missouri. You must watch this video. It's unpleasant, and it's disturbing, but you must watch this video if you are to understand what is happening routinely in America today. It follows a swat team into the home of a person suspected of having marijuana in his house. The behavior documented in this video is one of the reasons I know authorities in Arizona will abuse the broad new power recently granted to them.

For those of you not familiar with the terrifying and threatening appearance of a corgi, I've added the photo at the right. This is the type of creature that threatened the fully-armored swat team so severely that it became necessary to shoot it, from one to three times, in front of the children.

Radley Balko is all over this story, as he is all over so many stories of police-state abuse.

"This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years—cops dressed like soldiers, barreling through the front door middle of the night, slaughtering the family pets, filling the house with bullets in the presence of children, then having the audacity to charge the parents with endangering their own kid. There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime."

Finally, the third video. It's only thirty seconds long, but it packs thirty minutes worth of creepiness into it. It's brought to you by the folks running the State of Pennsylvania.

We have always wrestled with the proper balance between the power we grant the State and the liberty we preserve for ourselves. We have been slowly, maybe not so slowly, granting the State more and more power.

Please consider the following question. Have we reached the point where we now have more to fear from the State than from the criminals we hoped it would control?

9 May 2010

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