Watch your step

9 Jul

Sidewalk-Chalk-sizedWe’ve always tried to walk the middle of the road – keeping in mind there is more truth than just the truth we see.

There are always two sides to any story and what we read is not always both of them.

But we ran across an opinion piece from the Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch while on our vacation.

It was written by the Cato Institute – a very conservative “think tank”.

For once, they made some sense.
It clarified much that we see as the truth about some things that have changed – and not for the better.

It told the story of Elizabeth Daly who went to jail over a case of bottled water.

According to the original story in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, shortly after 10 pm a couple of months go – the college student bought ice cream, cookie dough and a carton of sparkling water from a store at a shopping center.

In the parking lot, a half-dozen men and a woman approached her car, flashing some kind of badges she didn’t recognize.

One jumped on the hood.
Another drew a gun.
Others started trying to break the windows.

As you can imagine, Daly panicked.

With her roommate in the passenger seat yelling “Go, go, go!” she drove off, hoping to reach the nearest police station.

The women called 911.

Then a vehicle with lights and sirens pulled them over, and the situation clarified: the people who had swarmed Daly’s car were plainclothes agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The agents had thought the sparkling water was a 12-pack of beer.

Did the booze enforcers apologize?
Not in the slightest.

They charged Daly with three felonies: two for assaulting an officer (her vehicle had grazed two agents; neither was hurt) and one for eluding the police.

Last week, sanity prevailed and the charges were dropped.

The agents’ excessive display of force is outrageously disproportionate to the offense they mistakenly thought they saw: an underage purchase of alcohol.

But in a sense, the girl got off easy.

A couple of weeks later, a 61-year-old man in Tennessee was killed when the police executed a drug raid on the wrong house.

A few weeks after that, in another wrong-house raid, police officers killed a dog belonging to an Army veteran.

Here’s what is bothering us – these are not isolated incidents.

They are part two broader phenomena.

One is the militarization of domestic law enforcement.

In recent years, police departments have widely adopted military tactics, military equipment (armored personnel carriers, flash-bang grenades) — and, sometimes, the mindset of military conquerors rather than domestic peacekeepers.

The other phenomenon is the increasing degree to which civilians are subject to criminal prosecution for non-criminal acts, including exercising the constitutionally protected right to free speech.

Last week, a man was arrested in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for writing chalk on the sidewalk.

How many times have we done that as kids?

He was participating in a health care demonstration outside the Governor’s home when he wrote, “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too.”

Well, that’s certainly the work of a terrorist.

Authorities charged Marin with writing “a derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk.”

We always thought dictatorships had laws like that, not us.

There’s more: another man who chalked messages such as “Stop big banks” outside branches of Bank of America was arrested last year.

Prosecutors brought 13 vandalism charges against him.

Moreover, the judge in the case recently prohibited his attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech,” or anything like them during the trial.

Keep this in mind:
You broke the law yesterday and you probably will break the law tomorrow.

No, you may have done nothing wrong and you probably don’t even know what laws you have broken.

It’s hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law.

You think not?
Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that was addressed to someone else?

That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to five years in prison.

People who study this stuff say the typical American commits three felonies a day.

As The Wall Street Journal has reported, lawmakers in Washington have greatly eroded the notion of mens rea — the principle that you need criminal intent in order to commit a crime.

Thanks to a growing number of obscure offenses, we break the day constantly.

What once might have been considered simply a mistake is now punishable by jail time.

And as our young lady that started this article has learned, you can go to jail even when the person making the mistake wasn’t you.

Don’t blame the neighborhood cop.
Blame the people making the laws.

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