Do me a favor. Before you read the rest of this post, get out a piece of paper and write down your answer to the question. Then read the rest of this article and, if you answer changes, let me know in the comments.
In a small Tennessee town, a 12 year old boy decides to participate in an annual yard sale/street fair. While he is operating his booth, a woman stops by, determines that they are engaged in commerce, and gives them a form to fill in order to report earnings and pay taxes. Two weeks later, the boy receives a letter from the state, demanding $200 in back taxes. The letter threatens that if he doesn’t pay within 10 days, the state will move to seize all assets and bank accounts.
Forget for a moment that this is about a 12 year old boy, and think about the circumstances. It’s a small town event sponsored by a private school. The total revenue generated wouldn’t be enough to run the state for 5 minutes. In other words, small potatoes. Yet the state managed to send at least one revenue agent to the weekend event to enforce revenue collection. And remember, for a debt of $200, they were willing to seize all assets and property.
A couple, both professional gamblers, were flying back to the US after a trip to Puerto Rico. During a layover in Atlanta, their gambling bankroll and winnings, roughly $100,000, was confiscated by the police. Even though the couple told the police why they had the money, and produced records of their activities documenting the provenance of the money, it was confiscated and it took them seven months to get it back.
And at that, they were lucky. In Tennessee, where some police departments are allowed to keep a portion of money and assets they confiscate, it’s called policing for profit, and is increasingly common. So much so that the state legislature is considering a bill that attempts to ban the practice.
A St. Louis man was filming his commute home. A security guard told him that filming while on the commuter train was against the law and against the policy of the railway. Both statements are false, by the way. The man refused to stop filming and the security guard then called the county police, who removed the man from the train and escorted him off the property. When he refused to provide ID to the police, as was his right, they arrested him for trespassing, even though he was leaving the site. The video of the incident is posted at the link.
What begins as a minor traffic stop morphs into involuntary sodomy/surgery for a New Mexico man. Pulled over for failing to come to a complete stop while exiting a store parking lot, the officer determines that the man is ‘clenching’ his buttocks. Based on the ‘clenching’, and an alert from an uncertified K-9, the officer gets a search warrant. The man is taken to a hospital which refused to execute the search, citing ethical concerns. The police take the man to a hospital in another county, where they perform 2 X-rays, 2 digital rectal exams, 3 enemas including a search of the fecal matter, and finally, a full colonoscopy.
No evidence of any drugs were found.
There are no records to indicate that any officer or doctor is facing any sort of official sanction from this case. In fact, the local TV news crew has found a second case, almost identical to the first.
I could go on. I didn’t talk about the campus police pepper spraying peaceful protestors, or the fact that the Department of Education has a SWAT team, or that local police departments are becoming increasingly militarized. I didn’t talk about no-knock raids, or New York’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ policy. I could go on, but I don’t think I need to. Remember, in the four stories listed, nobody was violent, and nobody was engaged in criminal activity. Yet they were all arrested, brutalized, or had property confiscated for little or no reason.
So I’ll ask my questions again. Do we live in a police state?
And if so, what are you willing to do about it?
Let’s talk about it. While we still can.
UPDATE: This is a story I’d read earlier this summer. It is the result of a long term investigation by the New Yorker on ‘policing for profit’ and focuses on the little Texas town of Tenaha.
The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.
Yep. You read it right. Stopped on suspicion of money laundering and child endangerment, they were let go if they agreed to surrender their valuables. Read the whole article. It’s long, but worth your time.