Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A town in Arkansas has imposed a 24-hour curfew. As I understand it, people under 18 can't be on the streets at any time without adult supervision. All adults are subject to being stopped by the police at any time of the day or night. If they don't provide a good enough explanation of why they're walking down the street, they'll get extra attention. The articles I have read on the subject have not explained the policy in any more depth than that, but the article to me suggests that police will literally stop and question any person they encounter on the street. I wish I had more information about the mechanics of this curfew. People have to go to the grocery store, people need to go to the store, people need maintenance workers to fix air conditioning or electricity. So obviously not all people can be cited for violating the curfew. I suspect the curfew policy is really in place to provide cover for police stopping and questioning the usual suspects without having to be bothered with actual reasonable suspicion to stop them.

The policy is a response to random shootings and drug-fueled violence. Some citizens of the town report having their children sleep on the floor to keep them out of the path of stray bullets. The town, especially the most targeted neighborhood, sounds like a bad place to live. If I lived there and lacked the means to move out, I would sure want the police to step up and make it a safer place again. But this just can't be the way to do it.

I just saw a news program where a prosecutor and a police detective were discussing this policy. Both of them expressed the idea that if you weren't doing anything wrong, this shouldn't pose any problem for you. Just like I shouldn't object to having to show an id upon demand. And I shouldn't object to the government listening to all my international phone calls. And I shouldn't object to the government getting a list of what books I've checked out from the public library.

Well, I'm not up to anything. I've done nothing wrong and I'm not carrying drugs or any illegal weapons. But I object. I have a constitutional right to traverse the streets of this country without police interference. As do all of you. And I resent the implication that those of us who are interested in protecting our constitutional rights are doing something wrong.

But people are scared and having their kids sleep on the floor, so that fear leads them to willingly accept this kind of intrusion, even to see it as no intrusion at all. I understand that feeling safe to sleep in our own beds and walk down the street without being shot or robbed is important. But is this really the kind of safety we want?

It's easy for people to think that in this particular situation, the curfew policy is a necessary evil, maybe even a reasonable response to the crime that has taken over the town. But it's always easy to agree with each, individual, seemingly small, and short-lived violation of our civil liberties. Before you know it, those seemingly small violations add up to a pretty big chunk out of our That's why we have to be so vigorous in resisting all proposals that would infringe on any of our rights, no matter how innocuous they seem. We simply have to stop being so willing to cede our rights in the name of security. The security we think we're getting is nothing compared to the absolute security of being able to walk down the street when we want, say what we want, and read what we want without any governmental interference.

And if that doesn't convince you this curfew policy is a bad idea, how about this: just wait until the defense lawyers start filing suppression motions on all those guys who have been arrested with drugs or guns. An awful lot of those cases are going to be tossed for violating the 4th Amendment rights of those defendants. At least, they ought to be by principled courts. Because our courts are supposed to be the last defense against infringements on our individual rights, regardless of how willing the majority is to tolerate those infringements.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a temporary response to a specific act of violence, say in a search of the original supsects of the shooting and to supress reprisal shooting, I would put up with a curfew for a little while.

If charges are dropped for guns/drugs found at the stops, who cares? Its not like they were going to get 5-10 for a bag of dope on the passenger's seat. But if they find guys currently wanted, or who have outstanding warrents, that's a different issue.

S said...

The problem is this is not a temporary response to a specific incident. In fact, the city council just voted unanimously to extend the curfew beyond the original deadline and to widen the scope from the target neighborhood.

As for arrests of folks on outstanding warrants, don't be so sure those will stand up, either. In my jurisdiction, our court applies the attenuation doctrine to arrest warrants. Meaning if the discovery of the warrant is tainted by the illegal detention, even the arrest can be considered fruit of the poisonous tree. Of course, the police can just issue a new arrest warrant, but at some point, courts might be willing to craft a more drastic remedy if such blatantly unconstitutional stops continue.

And I go back to my original point, that we should zealously guard against any intrusion into our rights, no matter how slight, so as not to become desensitized to further "slight" intrusions.

Frozen Heroes said...

I think some other countries have had curfews, haven't they? Like Russia, China, Nazi Germany, Italy under Mussolini.

-What's happening to our country!

S said...

I knew I could count on you to agree with me on this! :)

Erin said...

Why do you have to find these things that just get my blood boiling? I don't even know where to begin on the asinine-ness of this.

S said...

I can't help but find them. I just post the things that make my blood boil. It just so happens that your blood seems to boil at the same things as mine.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered if a city can say, "If you live here, you consent to a search of your house at any time."

After all, most states say, "If you drive here, you consent to a search of your breath/blood at any time." It's called implied consent, and since the Nazi's (MADD), have convinced states to do this sort of thing in furtherence of their anti-rights agenda (re-prohibition), it won't be far behind that cities or states will take the same "implied consent" idea to other areas.

E.g.- "If you walk down the street in our town, you have impliedly consented to an investigatory detention." That is basically what's going on with this curfew thing. The city gov. is simply mandating that certain constitutional rights don't exist anymore.

Our courts have let this sort of thing go in furtherance of DUI, but will they stop it in cases like this?

S said...

That's a pretty scary scenario! Definitely not a town I would want to live in.

The major distinction I see right away is the DUI implied consent hides behind this notion that driving is a privilege, not a right. But the US Supreme Court has found that the right to travel is a fundamental right. They don't mean that we all have the fundamental right to go to France, but that we all have the right to walk about outside freely, move from state to state, etc.

Sounds like that would be an unconstitutional conditions issue to me: pitting one constitutional right (4th Amendment) vs a fundamental right (right to free travel).

I certainly hope that's how a court would see it!

 
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