"When the people fear the government, there is tyranny." Posted by: Jon Henke
on Sunday, April 13, 2008
When you read about police forcefully preventing legal, peaceful assembly in a public area, arresting participants who dare to ask for justification, and stonewalling attempts to investigate their arbitrary harassment of people assembling peacefully, you would assume you're reading about another crackdown by the Chinese communists.
Unfortunately, the arbitrary and authoritarian demonstration of police power is increasingly common in the US. Read Radley Balko regularly for a constant litany of such abuses. Last night, Washington DC police apparently decided to tell a peaceful assembly to respect their authoritah...
Tonight, a group of about 20 D.C.-area libertarians headed down to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for some flash mob fun. The prank was harmless revelry: To ring in Jefferson’s birthday, we would meet on the steps of the memorial at 11:55pm, wearing iPods, then dance for about 10 minutes, capture the whole thing on video, and leave.
Courtney and I were about 10 minutes late, but by the time we arrived it was already over. The National Park Police broke the whole thing up just a few minutes in, punctuating their lack of a sense of humor by arresting one of the dancers ... She was cuffed, taken out to a paddy wagon, then booked and held at a Park Police station. Everyone I spoke with says there was no noise, there were no threats, and no laws broken (the park police I spoke with–including the arresting officer (who, oddly enough, denied to me that he was the arresting officer)–declined to say why she had been arrested).
The police refused to answer any questions, referring all calls to the communication number of the Park Police, which at this hour is closed. They also refused to give their badge numbers. ... Her crime was apparently to ask “why?” when the park police told the group they had to disperse. ... The people I spoke with say the other officer pictured in the foreground of this photo told the rest of the group to “shut the fuck up.” When one person politely asked why it was unnecessary to use the word “fuck,” the officer replied that if the guy who asked the question used any more profanity, he too would find himself arrested.
Our Founding Fathers, being better men than us, resolved this sort of thing by sending a polite letter to the head of the offending organization telling him that his services were no longer required. We no longer appear to have much interest in punishing and replacing our little domestic tyrants, much less meeting the more major tyrannies with the martial response those policies and people sometimes deserve.
A few further thoughts.
Dale Franks made a good point about this sort of thing: "[T]his is symptomatic of the increasing arrogance that pervades policing in this country. This attitude that they are exempt from the normal requirements that apply to the rest of us. This willingness to arrest people for committing perfectly legal acts, just because they don't like it. They are our servants, not vice versa. Somehow, we need to find a way to make that truth crystal clear to them."
If police don't want people to see Police as an enemy, perhaps they should stop acting like it. And start policing themselves. If it's just "a few bad apples", as we're often told, then why aren't the good cops diligently throwing their asses in jail and under the bus? That goes for judges and politicians, too.
I don't have routine interactions with police officers, but I can't honestly say many of those I've had over the years were very friendly. Perhaps there was a time when it they wanted to be your friendly neighborhood police officer. I don't know. In my experience, though, the neighborhood seems to be Hazzard County and the police officers seem to be taking the Boss Hogg approach. James Joyner has noticed the same thing, writing that "most have adopted a bullying attitude and demand to be treated with unearned deference. We’ve gone from Joe Friday and Andy Taylor to “Cops” and “The Wire.”"
The problem is systemic, not a coincidence of drunk-on-power individuals who all happened to become policemen. The majority of their work is, I'm sure, professional and fine. But there are a disturbingly large number of abusive policies and practices that seem to be coloring more and more police interactions.
Obviously, it should be noted that we've only heard one side of the story here. It should also be noted that the other side is stonewalling. So my sympathy for the potential that they are being misrepresented is quite limited.
It's also possible that my general attitude tonight is colored by my disgust over this event, and that I will be more reserved in the morning. I doubt, however, that I will feel any more kindly towards the Boss Hoggs who wanted the assemblers to respect their authoritah.
I appreciate the hard and necessary job that police do. However I have to call unnecessary roughness when the city police picked me up a few years ago because someone had switched my back license plate with a stolen one.
I did my best to cooperate with the officers, but they were rough, demeaning, and made it clear that I couldn’t please them. They cuffed me and threw me in the back of the cruiser for 15 minutes while they worked out what should have been bleeding obvious within 60 seconds—that the back license plate that they picked me up for didn’t match my front plate or my VIN number.
They let me go and smirked when I asked them why they were so rough. I was shaken and didn’t press it further, but if anything like that happens again, I will take badge numbers and complain as loudly as I can, whether it does any good or not.
I’ve been thinking about the problem a lot (my most recent blog entry from Friday is on this kind of topic, though more abstract). I also discuss it on my blog entry from March 20th (scroll down on my blog) "Intellectuals and Ideology." The problem is that right now we are on a course of increasing centralization of power and decreasing freedom. The free marketeers often overlook the dangers of big money, while those concerned about corporate powers overlook the dangers of big government. Big government is inhabited by a class of intellectuals in whose interest it is to amass bureaucratic power. The upshot is that while the citizens are tossed between wanting to ’soak the rich’ or ’stop governmental excess,’ the twin processes lead to a result that government gets bigger, and big money is in bed with big government. The pathway is towards authoritarianism and less freedom and democracy, with neither political party offering a real alternative. That’s one reason I point out the excesses of big government in Iraq, and the social engineering aspect of that policy.
I think ultimately the answer is smaller government in a real sense: a focus on local power over national power, with links via the internet and information technology to allow voluntary coordination and sharing of information. But I can’t see how we’ll get there from here.
I linked the schedule for the Jefferson Memorial in the word "legal" within this post. It does not close. Quoting: "The public may visit the Thomas Jefferson Memorial 24 hours a day."
Quite right; It doesn’t close. Officially.
At the same time, the word was to avoid the Monument area after dark, when I was last down there around 13 or 15 years back, thereabouts. Place was essentially a no man’s land, even then, or so I was told by the locals. Dunno; since I had young kids, I didn’t bother, except to drive through so the kids could see the lights play off the buildings and get some night shots out the truck windows.
With that in mind, and while the response of the cops was clearly overboard from what I’ve seen and heard (read), I can’t help but wonder if the battle zone mentality hadn’t understandably set in long before they happened upon these people at the Jefferson Memorial that night.
Just a thought. Not a defense, more an attempt to identify one of the causes.
Demonstrations and Special Events — Demonstrations and special events are defined as follows (36 CFR 7.96(g)(1)): • Demonstrations — includes demonstrations, picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services, and all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent, or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. • Special events — includes sports events, pageants, celebrations, historical reenactments, regattas, entertainments, exhibitions, parades, fairs, festivals, and similar events (including such events presented by the National Park Service), which are not demonstrations as previously defined, and which are engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent, or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. These terms do not include casual park use by visitors or tourists that does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers. Special events and demonstrations with more than 25 people within the National Mall & Memorial Parks generally require a permit issued by the National Park Service. To preserve an atmosphere of calm, tranquility, and reverence, certain memorial areas exclude demonstrations or special events. These areas include specific portions of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (see 36 CFR 7.96(g)(3)(ii) for specific areas excluded).
(ii) Other park areas. No permits may be issued authorizing demonstrations or special events in the following other park areas: (A) The Washington Monument, which means the area enclosed within the inner circle that surrounds the Monument’s base, except for the official annual commemorative Washington birthday ceremony. (B) The Lincoln Memorial, which means that portion of the park area which is on the same level or above the base of the large marble columns surrounding the structure, and the single series of marble stairs immediately adjacent to and below that level, except for the official annual commemorative Lincoln birthday ceremony. (C) The Jefferson Memorial, which means the circular portion of the Jefferson Memorial enclosed by the outermost series of columns, and all portions on the same levels or above the base of these columns, except for the official annual commemorative Jefferson birthday ceremony. (D) The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, except for official annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day commemorative ceremonies. Note: The darkened portions of the diagrams at the conclusion of paragraph (g) of this section show the areas where demonstrations or special events are prohibited.
If you don’t like this particular law or think it is unjust, petition the government to revoke the restriction on demonstrations and organized events at the Jefferson Memorial - or sue them and get a court to rule that restriction unconstitutional.
The people screeching things like "tyranny!", "police state!", and "communist crackdown!" over this incident of a flash mob being dispersed look pretty silly, though.
If you’re trying to argue that this coordinated "flash mob" of 20 or so people getting together to put on a little dance show for 10 minutes — complete with their own videotaper to document the escapade — doesn’t qualify under the definition of events...which are engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent, or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers, then I would suggest you don’t understand the main purpose of flash mobs — to engage in such bizarre behaviour that they draw attention to themselves and attract a crowd of onlookers.
The people screeching things like "tyranny!", "police state!", and "communist crackdown!" over this incident of a flash mob being dispersed still look pretty silly, though.
If you’re trying to argue that this coordinated "flash mob" of 20 or so people getting together to put on a little dance show for 10 minutes — complete with their own videotaper to document the escapade — doesn’t qualify under the definition of events...which are engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent, or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers,
you’re contending that the group was trying to draw a crowd of onlookers at midnight in an empty park?
The way I read it, it’s not about the group, it’s about the group trying to draw a crowd of onlookers, ie causing a disturbance. They weren’t, in fact, based on the time they did this they were doing the very opposite, trying to avoid drawing a crowd of onlookers. They were there for the very purpose of the memorial, to celebrate Jefferson and what he stood for.
Exactly, Chris. There’s no proscription against a group of people going to the memorial without a license and there was no chance at all that their activity that night would be disruptive or would draw a crowd larger than, say, a few bored police officers. The police officers - so far as has been indicated, and they’ve had every opportunity to explain it - had no reason to think there was any actual problem or illegal activity going on.
I fear the government, always have...HOWEVER, fear+tyranny is just silly. Sorry I fear sharks, lightning, snarling dogs, nuclear weapons, main battle tanks, and angry fathers, too. I just don’t fear them 24-7...Shad’s right you guys are being silly...flash mob=Stalon’s White Sea Ship Canal...
Wonderful. Reason #232,873,093 that Libertarianism, a viable electable political force, is a joke, well, everywhere.
Yes, the cops acted like jerks. Yes, some of the cops, should the case come to court, may be disciplined or fired.
But what of it? Cops often only have a few seconds to get a situation under control. Were the cops supposed to know that no harm was intended by the group of 20?
And let’s face it, shall we? If you’re gonna try out your little Libertarian Kabuki Act, midnight at the TJ Memorial is decidedly not the right venue. Sorry, but political theater, no matter how sound the principle on which it’s based, will always lose out to annoyed Park Police who get paid the same whether their sleeping in their cars or chasing down Osama bin Dancing.
It doesn’t excuse the cops’ behavior. But human nature trumps all municipal codes.
So who’s up for an experiment? Perhaps one of the 2-Stepping Libertarians (especially ones with a spouse and kids) will give me their address. Me and 19 of my friends will pantomime scenes from West Side Story or perhaps There Will be Blood or Bambi near your property on a random Saturday night. "No, honey, I’m not grabbing my piece or calling the cops or putting the neighborhood patrol in alert. Tell little Janie not to be scared. We’re Libertarians. We must respect their civil liberties." Riiiight.
James Joyner has noticed the same thing, writing that "most have adopted a bullying attitude and demand to be treated with unearned deference. We’ve gone from Joe Friday and Andy Taylor to "Cops" and "The Wire.""
Hmmm. Must have missed that episode when a shirtless incoherent Floyd was caught with 3 vials of crack, two sets of fake IDs and a stolen DVD player while telling Andy to go (bleep) himself at the top of his lungs. I guess in Mr. Joyner’s world, disease isn’t as heartwarming as it used to be, after all, we’ve gone from "Marcus Welby" to "ER" to "House." Sheesh, I guess Mr. Joyner needs to brush up on the "professionalism" of turn of the 20th Century NYPD.
But, hey, at least no one was smoking or enlarging their carbon footprint. They’d be in Gitmo.....
But what of it? Cops often only have a few seconds to get a situation under control. Were the cops supposed to know that no harm was intended by the group of 20?
Yes. That’s what they’re paid to do.
If it wasn’t immediately apparent that the group of people harmlessly bopping around the Jefferson memorial were harmless, it would not have required more than 30 seconds observation or a quick question to determine that fact.
I don’t think ***hole cops = tyranny in any larger sense, but police belligerence is a practice that is growing increasingly common.
Jon: I tend to agree, but I’m rarely surprised by human shallowness and downright stupidity, especially from those in authority. When I was 19, me and friend were visited by 6 angry cops and a paddy wagon.... three weeks later I’m in front of a Judge, with my p.o.’ed father standing next to me, threatening to throw me in jail. My crime: an open six-pack of Budweiser in a State Park. Yikes!
From then on, I tended to avoid any and all activities that will put me in a bad light in front of the police, especially Park Police. I’ve developed a sort of Stockholm Syndrome, at least when I hear the word Park.
With tomorrow being tax day, I’m up to join a mob of 300000K to seize control of the IRS. Now THAT’S the best way to celebrate TJ’s birthday.
In a TRUE Libertarian world, demonstrators would be clubbed like baby seals.
For in a Libertarian society, no authority would have the RIGHT to say My Right To Swing a Club ends were your skull begins.
If a Libertarian responds that I don’t know what a Libertarian Society would be like, my response is "But I know slightly more than what a Libertarian knows about a true Libertarian Society."
I partially blame computer games like Sim City for the recent rise in Libertarian aficionados. They think historic patterns of human behavior can be altered by someone typing in "New Rules" into a keyboard. Just fantasy world stuff, really.
I recall being frisked by a member of the New Orleans French Market patrol. I was with a group of Army Buddies on leave, and while waiting for the river boat, one of my friends decided to clean his fingernails with a pocket knife. The knife was small and perfectly legal, but the cop decided to confiscate the "weapon", and to search all of us for "other weapons". He obviously became annoyed when asked for his badge number, and changed the subject. We cooperated but just happened to remember the information that was on the front of his shirt. After the incident we continued on our boat ride, had a great time, and then called the French Market Patrol to complain, and to find out how my friend could retrieve his $30 dollar knife that was stolen. The officer was contacted and said he threw the knife in the river, nothing was done, end of story. Unfortunately in New Orleans, as well as other places across our great country, the line between organized crime, and organized government is blurry.