September 06, 2004

This Modern World

Tom Tomorrow forwards a first-hand account of detention conditions in New York last week. Bill O'Reilly made a huge deal all last week about this one guy who put a cop in a hospital, and how the protesters deserved whatever they got, because they would be a distraction for the police from stopping terrorists, and were, ipso facto, themselves terrorists.

I have never done anything illegal in my life. No illegal drugs, no underage drinking, I don't even smoke cigarettes. I had complete faith in the legal system of this country. I never thought that I would be arrested, much less arrested without any explanation. I had no idea what my rights were as a citizen under arrest.

I now know that I have the right to hand out leaflets, rally on a sidewalk, set up a moving picket line, and wear costumes. I cannot block any building entrances or have more than 3 people wearing masks (including bandanas). I need a permit to march in the street, rally in a park with more than 20 people, or use electronic amplification. I do not have the right to resist a search (although I can say that I do not consent to the search). I am not entitled to a phone call while being detained, and there is no limit to how long they can hold me.

And, of course, this woman was arrested and detained for over two days for walking next to some people who were walking in the street.

For those of you who, like Bill or John Ashcroft, missed your high school civics class, one of the major features of the US political system is that individuals have certain rights which the government is obliged to respect. These rights do make it inconvenient to ferret out people who wish to do away with the political system -- unlike, say, Nazi Germany or the Stalinist era Soviet Union, where eliminating "terrorists" and "dissidents" is easy. But these rights are what make the system worth living in, even defending, for most of the people who live in it. Hence the unpopularity of the Soviet Union.

Funny how the right-leaning moderates and conservatives -- the people who loved to hate the Commies -- are just nuts about setting up their own totalitarian state.

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