Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On Terror and Responses

When creating a new policy to deal with a potential problem, the effective way to do that is to examine the potential problem, then institute a policy that is related to that problem.

We must determine a rational and appropriate plan to deal with the threats that face us, but we must ensure that the response is not one that sacrifices the principles of democracy on the altar of a false sense of security.

Last week, a tour bus driver in a major US city called in security forces to deal with a terrorist threat. The police raided the tour bus, pulled 5 men off at gunpoint, tied their hands behind their backs and then unloaded the bus and searched all of the bags and packages.

What was the threat? If, perhaps, the men had bags that they kept checking, or they were acting unusually nervous, or they made mention of some deadly substance or a bomb, or whatever, you'd probably think "Well, after the London bombings, I can see a bus driver being nervous." But, what if I said the men's offense was having full pockets? Stuffed pockets:
Sunday, a double-decker Gray Line tourist bus was evacuated in midtown Manhattan after a bus company supervisor told police that five male passengers with backpacks and "stuffed" pockets had raised her suspicions. Police handcuffed five men and searched about 60 passengers before determining there was no threat.

I have a keychain with keys for 2 houses, 3 cars, a trailer, a ski rack, and a couple of bike locks. If those keys are in my pocket, my pocket bulges - a lot. Does that make me a threat? What if my wallet is in my other pocket? Does that then make me a threat? Is it an appropriate policy to take an entire busload of people off a bus at gunpoint, tie my hands behind my back, and search dozens of people's stuff, just because I'm carrying my keys AND my wallet?

Is this reasonable? Detention at gunpoint for full pockets?

Are we innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? The people who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights posited the former.

Were the people who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights living in some magically peaceful time, in which there was never any threat to anyone's life? Or were they living in a time where there were threats - both internal and external to the budding nation? If there were threats, didn't they care about their safety? How could they decide that the government should not be allowed to search and hold anyone it damned well pleased? Jeeze - anyone could turn out to be a Tory!

The Constitution is what it is for a reason.

The founders lived in times where there were tremendous threats to their own lives and the lives of the rest of the colonists. There were threats of all kinds - from the British army, Tory sympathizers, Native Americans, slaveholders, abolitionists, and many others - not to mention Nature herself. But the biggest threat they recognized out of all the threats in their daily lives was the threat of a government gone bad, a government holding too much power, abusing the people. The most remarkable thing in the Constitution is the recognition of the people as the source of government power - not some divine being or some lineage, or money, or anything else - only the people. Imagine, a government that holds power only with the consent of the governed.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights have served us well. They have had some flaws, but overall have stood the test of time. They have stood as a model for those craving real freedom throughout the world.

Written with a full understanding of the relative severity of different types of threats, they serve as a watchword for those who might be swayed by fear: there is something greater to fear than the threat posed by your neighbors, and that is a government, drunk with power, run amok.

It would do us all well to keep that in mind as we try to figure out reasonable and appropriate actions to take in light of the threat of terrorism. We should not let a moment's fear lead us into generations of subjugation.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Progressive Women's Blog Ring

Join | List | Prev | Next | Random | Prev 5 | Next 5 | Skip Prev | Skip Next

Powered by RingSurf