Thursday, November 01, 2007

Police, Civil Liberties

It's been a long time since I posted about anything truly meaningful. A recent e-mail from two close friends inspired a very long response, and so the complete interaction is here:

alas, this is far from "news."

it's not a happy time we live in. these are only a few on the long list, and i thought i had more at my fingertips. for a long time now i've been concerned about the way police interact with citizens, and the problems with the way in which citizens interact BACK.

first off, it is important for you to understand your rights. for instance, a police officer cannot legally arrest you for being in a public place and exercising your right to free speech. some college campuses (not to mention places in which the President of the United States of America speaks or appears) have adopted the concept of the "free speech zone," and people who have protested it have run into various levels of resistance ( while this is a hairy area because college campuses are SORT OF private property, never forget that it is your right to speak your mind on public turf. if you witness a police officer overstepping his or her bounds and breaking the law by harassing or physically battering a citizen (while battery is defined in the dictionary as " an unlawful attack upon another person by beating or wounding, or by touching in an offensive manner," it has been legally referred to also as the simple physical contact with another human being who does not want you to touch him or her), it is important for you to document this activity. cellphone cameras are a wonderful and rampantly-available tool for this, as youtube has proven ( and remember: police are REQUIRED to give their badge number upon request by a citizen. if they're there and they're doing something they shouldn't, get their badge number. you are a WITNESS TO A CRIME.

another point i'd like to make is this... we live in a place where a significant amount of legislation (the most infamous being the Patriot Act) has been passed in the past seven years that give the government and police more control than they deserve to have. a compounded problem of this has been the convincing of the public that it is STANDARD for some of their rights to be withheld. for instance, people are convinced it is STANDARD to not be able to take photos of public places such as train depots and airports. on top of this, people are being told, for instance, in the new york city subways that they are required to submit to any random bag checks. this is not true. and if a police officer asks you to show the contents of your bag to him or her, you have the right (nay, the PRIVILEGE) to deny his or her request and leave the train. did you know that you are not even required to show a store clerk your receipt and your bag contents when you leave a store, such as best buy? when you open your bag to show them, you are CONSENTING. this is because you have paid for the contents of that bag and the bag itself, and therefore they are your personal property.

while in the case of "best buy," maybe it is pointless to exercise this right because all they are really trying to prevent is theft, it is CRUCIAL that you exercise your rights with police officers. if and when the time comes that more of your civil liberties are taken away, it is police officers to whom you will have to answer. so it is crucial that you (WE) not simply allow our liberties to be revoked by simple consent, if it is not legally required. and when you hear that George Bush Jr. (or any government official) is attempting to revoke some of your civil liberties, it is absolutely PERTINENT that you do everything in your power to stop this. good websites for you to consult on this matter, if your personal freedoms are something that interest you, are: (ok, personal plug. this one's really a waste of your time in comparison)

i wish i could be of more help (or annoyance, if you've made it this far and are livid), but i want to leave you with this:

the final, crucial step to exercising your rights is calmness, self-assuredness, and decency. it is a distinct showing when any person tries to tell you what you cannot do, and, in knowing that they are wrong, you are calm and non-violent. Ghandi understood the value of this, and his followers were on some occasions physically abused in horrific ways. but they never fought back. Civil Disobedience ( is an unbearably powerful tool. you must be more than civil; you must be compassionate for your other human beings, whether they are suffering or doing what they believe to be their jobs.

and remember; there is no shame in being arrested because you are exercising your rights and your freedoms. it is a privilege, and it would earn not only my respect, but the respect of countless others.


Sam Friedman
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On 10/31/07, Michael Belcher < > wrote:

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