Monday, August 10, 2009

Two more glimpses of your America going down the tubes.

So the other day I'm on my way to my ball game, in full uniform, when I remember that I need to withdraw the $60 for the umps.* I pull into the ATM-user's lane (i.e., the lane that's carefully designed to tear the mirror off your car if you drive close enough so that you can actually reach the keypad from the driver's seat), and before I have a chance to slide my own card into the slot, out pops somebody else's. Realizing that I need to do my civic duty, I sigh and drive around to the main entrance, get out of the car and walk to the front door. A middle-aged rent-a-cop is standing just to the side of said door.

"Please remove your hat before you go into the bank," he says.

And I start, reflexively, to reach for my head...then I stop. Please remove my hat? Had my uniform inspired him to sing the National Anthem? Were we going to have a moment of silence for the nation's civil liberties? But seriously, if I was up to no good, why couldn't I be concealing a hand grenade in my jock? (Not that there's any extra room in there, yuk yuk.) Should I take my jock off, too? And what about the merchants I see walk into the bank all the time with attaches and even satchels?

"Look," I tell the guard, "I'm not going to rob this bank. OK? I'm just running
in there to give them this ATM card I found in your machine. And unless you have some evidence of a crime I'm about to commit, I'm not taking off my hat."

With that, I walked into the bank, gave the ATM card to the first available teller, and walked out again. The guard glared at me but said nothing.


The news is on in the background, and apparently a couple of thugs knocked off an armored car in downtown Philly today. (What a shocker: Crime in downtown Philly!) Witnesses saw the thieves fleeing in a red van. As I write this, I am watching video of a joint task force of Philly cops and FBI agents as they stop all motorists driving red vans and SUVs and ask them to prove that they didn't rob an armored car today. I know that sounds like sarcasm or overstatement, but think about it: What's the point of stopping the vans at all if you're not going to look around the interior a little bit, ask a few questions of the driver and passengers, get an overall impres
sion of what they're up to, etc? Clearly these people are presumed guilty, at least in some temporary-preliminary sense, by virtue of the fact that they're driving red vans. They must then demonstrate to the satisfaction of the policia that they're not "good" for the crime, as cops like to say.

I'm sorry. That is flat-out unconstitutional. Or ought to be. There is nothing connecting these people to the crime except the random fact of automobile color. It is exactly the same thing as finding out that a black guy robbed a grocery store, then stopping and interrogating all the black guys you see in the neighborhood for the rest of the day. Absent other probable cause or exigent circumstances, I defy the police to justify these tactics.

You may be under the impression that the job of law enforcement is to prevent crime and/or catch wrongdoers. Not so. Or it's not that simple. The job of law enforcement is to prevent crime and/or catch wrongdoers without violating the civil rights of innocent Americans (or the wrongdoers themselves). If catching criminals were the only imperative that mattered, that'd be a relative snap: Just stop and search people at random
or search everyone, for that matterthen take the best suspects down to the station and simply beat them or hold a gun to their heads till the right one fesses up. (Yeah, I know: We do that already at Gitmo.) There are reasons why we have laws against unreasonable search and seizure. Those reasons were central to the founding of this nation. And yet every day, a little bit more, we stray from the ethic that gave birth to the Bill of Rights in the first place.

Everybody is scared. Everybody wants the bad guys locked up. And so, in our desperation to feel a little bit safer (which most of us don't anyway), we cede basic rights to the gestapo. It's wrong, folks. Take a stand.

* I'm oversimplifying. It's actually $60 per manager, for a total of $120, since we play with two umps. But did you really need to know that to follow this story?


Anonymous said...

Didn't Ben Franklin say something to the effect that "those who give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"?

Cal said...

Well, look at it this way Steve. The rent-a-cops treatment of you is moving forward to your race-free world...LOL

That story is something I would expect a black guy to have happened to him, i.e., "take off your hat while you are inside".

Maybe you can now say you were racial profiled.

Anonymous said...

Maybe in Philly perps don't wear ballcaps to rob banks, but they certainly do in my neck of the woods.

I get riled up whenever the cashier at a store starts marking up a $50 or $20 bill I've just handed her - as if I'm going to be passing freshly counterfeited $20 bills at Home Depot so I can abscond with a toilet repair kit.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: I never bother laundering any amounts under $100. But seriously, as I see it, this isn't about "what the well-dressed felon wears." I should be able to walk into a bank in a full Michelin-man outfit, with sunglasses like people wear after cataract surgery, two violin cases and a box that's marked "dynamite" on the side, and no one should have a damned thing to say about till I actually do something criminal. We have gone way too far in this country in terms of "proactive steps" to combat crime. It started with the metal detectors in airports, and now it's everywhere. Punish people when they commit crimes. Until then, leave 'em alone, no matter what they look like or how they act. (The one exception is gun control, because human beings have proved themselves unable to carry guns without using them stupidly. But other than that...)

Cal: That's pretty funny.

Sarsabu said...

Jaysus ever seen Stir Crazy? Count your blessings if I were you - Mon Dieu I loved Mons Pryor

Anonymous said...

I am a American returning to the states after 10 years of being abroad. Two years later I hardly recognize what I left 10 years ago...our liberty is gone (corporately controlled) Our freedom (controlled) One cant even get a decent job (even though a top echelon bacground), or good housing without sucking up to some corporate entity (and bank) which demands mediocraty (try to get a phd in on a resume and yer in for a big surprise!!) What is happening is absolutley terrible, moreover, look at what we consider valuable and we can just throw all our values out the window because they are controled too (education, media, and even our thoughts-try to rationalize that one, but try to be an individual and you might find our really quickly). If you dont see it... look deeper! And safety? I think we are far less safe than we were 30 years ago (by far) because we simply 'dont care' as individuals yet set up a-mock internal security- to yet infuse paranoia- propose an arsenel and racket of protection to assist in a national state of paranoia, and in the end? What? Who will be looking at us!