Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rusty Hair And A Rusty Heart

Verily I say unto you: journalism careers doth corrode your soul. As a compassionate human being who wants the human condition to improve I naturally wish for a country led by leaders both wise and incorruptible, but as a journalist I think “If the government starts making sense, what the hell will I have to write about?”

These are the thoughts that keep me awake nights. But then the dawn breaks, and by the clear light of day I realize my nighttime terrors are ridiculous: government wise? Sane? Incorruptible? Clearly, if I’m going to live in fear I should at least find something less stupid to be afraid of.

Here's a gently snarky piece I wrote for my paper this week, highlighting the pointless unconstitutional bullshittery of random police checkpoints. Before y’all read it, bear in mind this was written for a non-libertarian audience that, despite disagreement on issues like the drug war, generally believes that Government Is Good. That’s why I waited for a few paragraphs before introducing the whole “innocent people should not be harassed” idea.
Before 1990, checkpoints in America were mostly seen on television, when low-rent stations aired old black-and-white movies about life under the Nazis or Communists. “Your papers, citizen.” Pre-1990 civics teachers bragged to their students that Americans are protected from that sort of thing by the fourth amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees: “The right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures … but upon probable cause.”

In other words: you can’t be stopped for searches or questioning unless the cops have a warrant or at least a very good reason to suspect you’re up to something. No “fishing expeditions” netting the innocent in hopes of catching a few guilty along with them are allowed.


Anonymous NoStar said...

Where so many journalists wield their personal philosophies like a caveman's club, you Jennifer, skillfully handle yours like a surgical scalpel.

I remember civics and American Government teachers explaining why America was better than the Soviet Union and China. I wondered what they tell the yutes today, but then I realize that even if they believed America was better, it wouldn't be PC to say so.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like it.

How about next a piece on the IRS, and how they are empowered to pry into every nook and cranny of our lives?

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh please do a piece on the IRS..or even the Federal Reserve..

of course I'd even like an account or enumeration of CT's corrupt officials who ignore the laws they are supposed to uphold. Who has been to jail.. who avoided jail, who is in jail? drunk drivers, sex offenders, you name it.
Could be interesting.. especially to see what kind of people we have voted for! Did people get re-elected even after they had shown bad judgement?
Rowland, DeLuca, Newton.. gosh I bet the list is long.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Before I can do a piece on the IRS or the Feds I have to find a "local" hook. For example, the reason I was able to do this DUI piece is because of the grant mention on the town-council agenda. So if I knew of a Nutmegger having problems with the IRS, I could probably pitch that story to my boss, but I can't just say "The IRS is bogus. Can I explain why?"

Once again: any of y'all know of corruption or government chicanery going on in Connecticut, drop me a line.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

So, as long as they announce "We will have checkpoints on every road in and out of the city, right at the city limits," they're legally covered. If a particular checkpoint just happens to be unmanned at any particular time, well that's the breaks - consider it an "honor system" checkpoint.

Of course, the fact that this would actually be of no help in predetermining where the manned checkpoints are would be your (the citizens) problem, not theirs.

Sorry...I have a nasty, legalistically-picky mind.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Unless Hartford is somehow exempt from Federal Taxes, the IRS is a local issue.

On the other hand, I'd just stay away from that topic, if I were you - unless you get something really juicy. Anybody complaining about the IRS is almost automatically seen as a "kook", and generally loses much of their credibility (no matter how "right" they actually may be).

11:34 AM  
Blogger Windypundit said...

FYI, in The Crime Fighter: Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business former NYPD deputy commissioner Jack Maple discusses the use of checkpoints. He claims their real value as crimefighting tools comes not from catching drunk drivers, but from creating the opportunity to question and search a lot of people and from disrupting local crime.

Once they find something wrong, DUI or otherwise, they pull the offender's record. If he's out on parole for something else, he gets violated and goes back to jail. If he's not on parole, but he has a serious record, he gets arrested and goes back into the system. The record gets him more jail time, and whatever time he spends there is time he can't spend on his life of crime. If one of the other guys in the car is on parole, he gets violated for associating with criminals and goes back to jail. And so on.

The idea is that the kind of people who commit major crimes are also likely to commit minor crimes, and it's a heck of a lot easier to catch them at the minor crimes.
If you set up your drunk-driving checkpoint in the middle of a known drug market, you get to pull over a lot of interesting people. And you get to throw some of them in jail.

In other words, DUI checkpoints are just pretext stops with money, publicity, and legal cover.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Thank you, NoStar! That's exactly what I am to do.

By the way, y'all (blush)--I see the paper revamped its website last night. I'm going to change the link in my post to lead to the new version. And--ahem--I see that comments are now enabled.

7:05 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Still wondering where "rusty" comes from. "Hell on paws red" might be better....

I think it's amazing that Michigan, who started this mess, has outlawed them. Thanks for that tidbit of information.

However, in general, I worry for my kids in the future we're creating here. Seriously.

6:33 AM  
Anonymous thoreau said...

Good point about how we were told that checkpoints were for Communists, Jennifer.

While in line at the airport I occasionally say, to nobody in particular (in the hopes that somebody will hear and agree) that in Soviet Russia they couldn't travel anywhere without showing their papers and being searched. I say that I was so glad that I didn't live in a Communist country.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

@windypundit: If one of the other guys in the car is on parole, he gets violated for associating with criminals and goes back to jail. And so on.

An interesting "guilt by association" bit, there. Are you saying that if the guy he's riding with gets arrested for DUI, he is ipso facto a criminal, and therefore the parolee is suddenly guilty of associating with criminals?

Or was that a mistaken impression on my part, based on the ordering and juxtaposition of the sentences?

8:24 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Are you saying that if the guy he's riding with gets arrested for DUI, he is ipso facto a criminal, and therefore the parolee is suddenly guilty of associating with criminals?

That does seem to be what I wrote...but I can't remember if that's what I meant. It does seem unlikely it would work that way, doesn't it?

On the other hand, if you're on parole and in a car when the driver gets busted for drug possession, I wouldn't be surprised if they can violate you for it. I don't really know, though.

I do know that Maple's plan was to use every opportunity to violate parolees, and checkpoints were part of the plan.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous K. Patrick Glover said...

Completely off topic, but I'm spreading the misery. Consider yourself tagged....

5:45 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

"Rusty Hair And A Rusty Heart"

Speaking of rust, this blog seems to have grown a few rich, red flowers of it. Isn't it about time for a new entry - or, at least, a new comment? Anyone?

6:32 AM  

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