Monday, August 05, 2013

protection of law

human rights and basic dignities are not just for the good; they are for all of us.

they are for judges and librarians and terrorists and child molesters.

it has nothing to do with leniency and kindness and everything to do with rule of law. the protections of law work for when we are aggrieved, but they also work when we are transgressors. rule of law only keeps the good safe if it keeps the criminals safe. we are obligated to apply the same standards of decency to all citizens (of the country, of the world) regardless of their goodness or their deservingness not to protect criminals and persons of depraved cruelty, but to protect ourselves.

i was once detained and questioned on suspicion of being a terrorist.

i had done two things: i had taken a picture of a railroad bridge, and i had taken a picture of the smokestack of an abandoned factory.

neither of these things is criminal, but they had made me into a suspect.

the reasons i had done these things are none of anybody's business, but i will tell them to you anyway: the bridge made a pretty photograph, and the smokestack was an NGS benchmark. i hunt benchmarks for a hobby. this involves finding them as described in the NGS factsheets and usually taking a picture of them to document that you have found them. it is like birdwatching for map nerds.

but the burden of proof is not on me. i should not have to prove that i was engaged in nothing criminal in order not to be treated like a suspect.

another time i was questioned rather abruptly by armed men who came racing up to me in a black SUV while i was taking pictures of fuzzy kitties.

the problem, i guess, was that i was within a mile of the canadian border and the department of homeland security believes it has the right to search anyone for any reason within 100 miles of the US borders.

that is a hundred mile constitutional protection-free zone, and ALL of my state conveniently fits into that area where DHS believes it has free latitude to ignore the 4th amendment.

when i say i have nothing to hide, it does not mean that i invite you or the police or any government agency to come search my person or my bags or my home.

i do not drink or use drugs. i do not own or transport weapons. i pay all required taxes and i don't stiff waiters. i mostly even drive the speed limit.

but if some officer decides i "look suspicious", i am suddenly a criminal.


because i won't consent to being searched without a warrant. all an officer has to do is suggest that he feels in danger, or that i might be resisting arrest and all of a sudden there's no warrant needed, and i can legally be fingerprinted and have DNA samples taken.

and if they decide to call you "terrorist", you have no rights. not to due process, not to speedy trial, none of it.

all somebody has to do is invoke the sacred name of "national security" and you lose all your constitutional protections.

when we decide it is ok to withhold legal protections and basic rights from people we judge to be bad people, we are both usurping the power of the judiciary AND we are abdicating our own rights to protection.

if protections and dignities are only for the good, who gets to decide who the good are?

you? a suspicious border guard? a corrupt TSA agent? your neighbor who doesn't like you?


the protections of law are for everyone. you, me, that terrorist guy. basic human dignity is for all of us. you, me, that convicted drug dealer.

rule of law and transparency of government is what makes us - forces us to be- the nation(s) we hold ourselves up as. it means we necessarily have to take responsibility and to face risks and to have to look and think hard about why we can claim that we are good people and someone else is maybe not.

we cannot occupy any moral high ground by simple virtue of where we happen to be standing, and we do not get to dispense with rule of law whenever it becomes expedient.

otherwise there's no protection for anyone, and rule of law simply ceases to be.

no excuses.

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