Arresting the arresting tendencies of authorities
In a free society, the ultimate loss for a citizen is his or her personal freedom when arrested. Lately, some people I know have been arrested for what seem to be administrative rather than criminal offenses. I do not run with a rough crowd of thugs, thieves and bully-boys. We are mostly pillars of the community.
To be sure, criminals should be arrested and incarcerated. But should regular citizens who run afoul of an administrative rule be treated as criminals? There is a difference between criminal activity (robbery, rape and murder) and administrative violations (yard weeds or dogs in someone’s garden). Tickets for no insurance, seat belt use and parking are administrative in nature, as opposed to extreme speed and reckless driving.
In the gray area are tickets for driving a few miles over the speed limit or not using a turn signal. These are intended to provide revenue rather than extinguish behavior. Should failure to pay parking tickets ever get a citizen handcuffed and perp-walked into the jail? Where is the dividing line?
Where to draw lines
Government is about where to draw lines. When government hassles a citizen, our free society must ask if the hassle was worth the effect upon the citizens as a whole. Our leaders govern with the consent of the citizens, so every time a citizen is in conflict with their government, it brings into question that consent. At all times we must not allow our government to become oppressive to citizens.
Oppressive governments understand they cannot oppress all of the citizens at once, so they oppress one citizen at a time. For individual citizens, there is no resisting the entire government because of the government dog-pile principle. If one member of law enforcement cannot subdue a citizen, two more jump in, etc.
Most citizens understand resistance is futile; therefore, only real criminals resist. The gray area is the definition of resistance. Not instantly obeying authorities is very much different than intentional resistance to authority. However, at times it seems to me that our government treats both actions equally.
That is the problem for law-abiding pillars of the community. Are we sheep, or do we have a right to confront our government when the actions of the government is wrong without fear of getting our head beaten in by an over-zealous government worker? Saying “Wait, let us discuss this” can lead to a beating.
A friend’s wife was standing on her front porch talking to a policeman who was asking a question about a neighbor. She stopped him, “Take your hand off the butt of your pistol when you are speaking to me. It intimidates me having you touching your pistol.” Yes, the battle was on, and it did not go well for this woman who was protesting her right to not be intimidated.
In the Andy Griffith Show, Deputy Barney Fife routinely put his hand on his pistol as a way of intimidating people. I am not concerned when a member of law enforcement draws a weapon; rather, this is the subtle threat of shooting without pulling the weapon.
Asking servants to draw the line
In both our national Constitutional Convention in 1787 and New Mexico’s Constitutional Convention in 1911, the central aim was to specifically limit the power of government over the citizens. Each constitution is a rule book for our government to follow. Each limits the government, not the citizens. Our founding leaders wanted a limited government, not a government that could do anything it wants to the citizens.
So here is what I am going to do. Every candidate, every legislator and every member of the judiciary is going to be asked: Where is the line at which citizens can and should be arrested, handcuffed and perp-walked into jail? Your bosses want to know. You work for us, not the other way around. Forgetting this one principle of who is the boss will get you thrown out of office unless you are constitutionally mandated to a lifetime term.
All other “servants of the people” will be asked in the coming months to draw the line between administrative and criminal activity. I never want to see someone in handcuffs because they have weeds in their yard. Regular citizens are very different from criminals and should be treated accordingly.
Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on KSNM-AM 570 in Las Cruces and throughout the state through streaming. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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